Thank you, Tom [Perrelli] – and thank you all for being here. It’s a pleasure to welcome each of you to Washington.
Let me also thank my colleagues in Tom’s office, the Office of Justice Programs, the COPS Office, and the Office on Violence Against Women – as well as our partners at the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and other agencies across the federal government – for their work in bringing us together.
I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss our shared goals – and your front-line efforts – to prevent, reduce, and combat childhood exposure to violence. As Tom mentioned, for me, the issue of children’s exposure to violence has been both a personal and professional concern for decades. As our nation’s Attorney General, and as a parent of three young children, addressing this crisis – and implementing bold, innovative, and collaborative solutions – is a top priority.
Years ago – when I served as Deputy Attorney General during the Clinton Administration – I had the chance to help launch Safe Start, the Greenbook Initiative, and other critical efforts aimed at better understanding and eliminating youth violence. I have always been proud of what we accomplished. But I have always wanted to do more. And, like you, I have long recognized that we must do more.
That’s what the Defending Childhood Initiative – and today’s meeting – is all about. The challenges before us are clear – and they couldn’t be more urgent.
Because of the excellent survey that was led by Sherry Hamby and other experts, we know that – in America today – more than three out of five children have been exposed to crime, violence, or abuse – in their neighborhoods, in their schools, or in their own homes. And almost forty percent of children have been direct victims of two or more violent acts.
The statistics go on and on – and, unfortunately, so too does the violence. The reality we face is nothing short of a crisis. But through our demonstration sites – through each of you and your teams – we can, and we will, make breakthroughs in preventing, addressing, reducing, and more fully understanding this problem. And, ultimately, we will succeed in identifying and applying the solutions that our children need and deserve.
I am excited about this initiative – and the ways that, already, it is focusing efforts to develop and to implement high-performance projects. I have every expectation that, with your help and continued leadership, we can advance scientific inquiry on the causes and characteristics of children’s exposure to violence – and continue to support critical education and outreach efforts. And I have no doubt that, by working together, we can improve the systems and services that identify and assist children, youth, and families who have been impacted by violence.
These are the goals of the Defending Childhood Initiative – goals that I’m hopeful we’ll come closer to meeting during this conference, as we work toward the creation of a strategic, comprehensive action plan.
In the development of such a plan, your insights and expertise is critical. I know that you are already hard at work devising targeted solutions for the children and families in the communities you serve. And I’m hopeful that – as you share your unique experiences building and leveraging partnerships; gathering and assessing data; and collaborating with local victim-assistance organizations, police departments, non-profits, schools, and religious organizations – communities across the country will all benefit from the lessons you’ve learned in recent months.
Of course, no two communities are the same. And you know best how programs can be tailored to tackle the specific problems you confront. That’s why this entire initiative is founded on the premise that a local focus – and the replication of the most successful local solutions and strategies – is critical to national progress.
That said, the Defending Childhood Initiative is not an effort to enable incremental change in a few neighborhoods. Ultimately, we seek systemic change: the fundamental overhaul of broken social patterns that are threatening the safety – and limiting the prospects – of our children. This demands that our efforts be comprehensive; and that we share information about both setbacks and progress. And it requires us to work together to shine a light on a problem that impacts the future of our communities, and the lives of our children.
And so no matter your specific problems – and no matter your targeted solutions – I want to thank you, in advance, for your commitment to collaboration. Sharing information – and working together – will make the difference between slow reform and the urgent realization of a new reality for our nation’s children. That’s why I’m pleased, in particular, to hear about the partnerships you’re forging with state, local, and tribal communities. And that’s why I’m delighted that you are all here today – and eager to work together.
Once again, thank you – for your partnership and leadership, for your enthusiasm, and for your vision of a world where our children are no longer exposed to violence. Together, we can usher in a new era of service to, and support of, the most precious and vulnerable among us. And in so doing, we can transform the country that we love for the better – one child at a time.
Although I wish that I could stay longer to hear about all of your demonstration sites, I am grateful for the opportunity to hear about three of them – and I look forward to learning about the rest very soon in my conversations with Laurie and Tom.
Now, I’d like to hand things over to Tom who will lead our discussion.