Justice News

Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli Speaks at the Defending Childhood Grantee Meeting
Washington, DC
United States
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

             Good morning. I know it’s early in our first day, but I hope you are already getting a sense of just how important Defending Childhood is to the Department of Justice. One of my responsibilities here at the Department that I find most rewarding is overseeing all of the Department’s grant programs. This allows me the opportunity to support the excellent work related to children, youth and violence that comes out of the Office of Justice Programs, the Office on Violence Against Women and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. A hallmark of this Department of Justice’s approach to its work is collaboration – if we want to work with communities on broad-ranging and truly comprehensive solutions to problems, we ourselves in the Department need to work together. The Defending Childhood Initiative is one of several in the Department where we have sought to enhance how we work together, all with the goal of better helping our partners in cities, towns, reservations, and rural areas throughout the Nation.

We are here today because communities across the country face a reality that is simply unacceptable – our children are exposed to far more violence than I think most people realize and that is intolerable. We can have only one response – something must be done. I want to echo what the leaders from all our components have said about the vital importance of this initiative. It has the potential to substantially change the lives of American children and families. With the Attorney General’s Defending Childhood Initiative, the Justice Department is committing to a comprehensive approach to a pervasive problem. With a fragmented approach, children exposed to violence can slip through the cracks of every service system. Other times, these children may be viewed as collateral damage in shattered lives – or, most tragically, when the sources of their trauma goes unnoticed, as troublemakers or delinquents. This initiative is about targeting and breaking the cycle of violence that affects our most vulnerable Americans.

This initiative seeks to redefine how the Justice Department responds to children who experience violence, witness violence, or suffer ongoing negative ramifications from violence. We have devised an initiative that will harness resources from across the Department to – first, prevent exposure to violence when possible; second to mitigate the negative impact of violence when it does occur; and third, to develop knowledge and spread awareness that will ultimately improve our homes, cities, towns, and communities. We are integrating efforts to protect and assist children exposed to violence into everything we do at the Justice Department.

Tomorrow you’ll hear from the Attorney General firsthand. This is a very personal undertaking for him. He has been a leader and a visionary in this area. As he will tell you, he first focused on this issue more than a decade ago and it was his efforts, as Deputy Attorney General, that led to much of the Department’s work on these issues and was a catalyst for much of the research and experience we will discuss over the next couple of days. He has made it clear that the Defending Childhood Initiative is a top priority for the Department and he has promoted the importance of this initiative throughout the Administration. In his proclamation declaring October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, President Obama mentioned Defending Childhood as part of our efforts to help children who are the victims and witnesses of domestic violence. He noted that children who experience violence face many obstacles and that prevention and early intervention efforts can do much to help them.

I will also note that this is a very personal undertaking for me. As a parent, one naturally wants to protect children, but I was stunned by the results of the National Survey on Children Exposed to Violence. I have also been deeply affected by what we have learned over the years in areas such as truancy – where the correlations with a host of other problems that are likely to cause truancy and a host of negative outcomes that may follow are extraordinary – and bullying, which so often is a product of a young person who themselves was victim or witness of violence. It was an honor when the Attorney General asked me to help construct the Initiative, and I am a constant and strong advocate for funding of the Initiative. I also want to note that the Initiative is evidence of the Department’s renewed commitment to its trust responsibility to Tribal Nations; that is why two of the pilot sites are tribal communities.

As I noted, we do not work on a blank slate; much work has been done on the problem of children exposed to violence – both to understand the problem and to develop promising practices to address it. Most recently, our efforts to generate knowledge included the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence. The Attorney General will cover the detailed statistics tomorrow. I’ll just highlight a few facts and point out that this study really helps bring the importance of our work into focus.

We have now been able to document the extent to which the same kids are often victimized again and again. A child who is exposed to one type of violence is more likely to be exposed to other types of violence, or to be exposed multiple times. More than 38 percent of children reported more than one direct victimization within the previous year. The study also found that a child who was physically assaulted in the past year would be five times as likely to also have been sexually victimized and more than four times as likely to also have been maltreated during that period. Children who should be getting treatment and being protected are instead being subjected to victimization once again.

We also learned, sadly, that children are more likely to be exposed to violence and crime than adults. For instance, a 2005 study showed that juveniles and young adults ages 12 to 19 were more than twice as likely to be the victims of violent crimes as the population as a whole. And we know that children who are exposed to violence are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, suffer from depression and anxiety, have problems in school, experience or perpetuate dating violence, and engage in criminal behavior later in life.

Through the Defending Childhood initiative, the Department of Justice is focused on implementing concrete knowledge to combat children’s exposure to violence. For years, we’ve worked to develop our knowledge about this issue and to promote promising approaches. Defending Childhood takes this a step further by calling for direct action in targeted communities – your communities. The best way that we can break this vicious cycle of violence is by working to prevent children’s exposure to violence, to provide appropriate interventions when we can’t prevent exposure, and to increase knowledge and raise awareness about this issue. These are the goals of Defending Childhood.

As I noted at the outset, we believe collaboration is key. Today, I’m joined by a wide variety of DOJ representatives and you’ll hear from even more in the next few days. This effort cuts across the entire Department, not just OJP, OVW and COPS. Representatives from the FBI as well as the U.S. Attorneys Offices across the country are important partners in Defending Childhood.

We’re also building partnerships with other federal agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. We worked with HHS in the late 1990s on the Safe From the Start Action Plan, and they continue to play a key role in helping children exposed to violence. You’ll hear from HHS representatives tomorrow, and we’re thrilled that we’ve already been able to work with them to jointly develop information about evidence-based practices that will be presented during one of tomorrow’s workshops. Going forward, there will be many additional opportunities for collaboration with these and other federal agencies. At the federal level, this is truly an unprecedented effort to comprehensively address children’s exposure to violence.

But there are many critical partners outside the federal government. We plan to do outreach to law enforcement organizations. We’re working to inform and support law enforcement officers as first responders. Officers have the unique opportunity to help with the early identification of children exposed to violence, and we want to encourage their involvement.

We are tapping the knowledge of national experts and continuing to advance science in this area. One of our first steps in launching this initiative was to host a meeting of a small group of national experts on this topic. Then, this past summer, several DOJ representatives attended the International Family Violence and Child Victimization Research Conference and met with the experts assembled there. We plan to continue to hold small group meetings and to use them to identify pressing issues and innovative approaches.

But by far our most important partners are all of you – you who daily face the problems of violence in your communities and its devastating impact on children. We have asked for unprecedented collaboration from you and among all those who serve young people across your communities, from law enforcement to social services, to the courts, and beyond. Your knowledge, your experience, your commitment, and your hard work are the most essential ingredient in this effort, which is too important to fail. Not only will your work, we hope, make for demonstrably better lives for children in your communities and improve the quality of life for the entire community, but we also hope that, through scientific evaluation integrated into your demonstration sites from the beginning, we will expand our knowledge on children’s exposure to violence, develop best practices, and help communities across the country facing similar challenges. .

I understand that you have ambitious agenda of topics to cover over the next two and a half days, and I hope you will find the time to be productive. I truly appreciate your time and commend your dedication to these issues. I look forward to continued opportunities to work with you as we move forward to help Defending Childhood achieve its goals. I also look forward to hearing from you now about your communities and your plans and hope to visit some, if not all, of your communities in the coming year.