Thank you, Chuck, for your kind words and for inviting me to join you today. It is an honor to address all of you here from across the country who are doing so much to protect our children. I’m especially grateful for Chuck Noerenberg and Lori Moriarty’s leadership at the National Alliance for DEC, as well as the remarkable work that the Iowa Alliance for Drug Endangered Children is doing throughout this great State. I am also pleased that some of our fine ambassadors from the Department, including COPS Director Melekian, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom and U.S. Attorney Nick Klinefeldt will be here to share ways that we are trying to better serve DEC.
Just as each of you has made protecting our children a priority, so too has the Department of Justice. And I welcome this opportunity to share with you just a few of the Department’s many initiatives to support and enhance your work on the ground.
Protecting our children has long been a priority for Attorney General Holder – and I can say that with authority, having known him since he was a line attorney at the Department’s Public Integrity section. I know that one of his proudest achievements since becoming Attorney General was the launch of the Defending Childhood initiative in 2010 to specifically address the issue of children exposed to violence. This program seeks to enhance efforts nationwide by leveraging federal resources, by boosting funding, and by creating government-wide partnerships. Though we have much work to do, I am proud of the progress we have made in that time to end the cycle of violence and defend every child’s right to a safe and secure childhood.
Two years ago, as part of our broader efforts to better identify and serve child victims and to promote the first-ever comprehensive threat assessment of the dangers children face through exploitation, we issued an innovative blueprint to fight these crimes, known as the National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction.
In 2006, the Department launched Project Safe Childhood (PSC) to combat the proliferation of technology-facilitated crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children. Just last year, we expanded that initiative to address all federal crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children. Through that program, we obtained over 2,700 indictments for offenses involving the sexual exploitation of a minor, representing a 42 percent increase in the number of indictments over fiscal year 2006. More importantly, from the launch of PSC through last August, over 4,700 children depicted in child pornography images have been identified and many have been taken out of harm’s way, through enhanced law enforcement coordination, multi-jurisdictional collaborative efforts, and additional contributions by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
In addition to PSC, our Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program has grown from a small, loose-knit program into a highly-trained, coordinated, and effective network of 61 task forces that has seen remarkable success.
The Department of Justice is also committed to a related initiative of great mutual interest— Drug Endangered Children.
Over the years, the Department of Justice has invested millions of dollars in the DEC initiative, including funding for the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, or National DEC, since its incorporation in 2006. This year alone, the Department has awarded over $1.2 million in funding to further National DEC’s ability to meet the increasingly troubling challenges facing young children in communities nationwide.
Because of this support, the National DEC and its state affiliates have grown from an informal association of a few state leaders into a national voice for training, technical assistance, and advocacy on behalf of abused and neglected children. And despite the tight fiscal climate that we’re seeing at every level of government, the Justice Department has been – and will remain – committed to stand with you and our other stakeholders on the ground to take this work to the next level.
But of course, funding is only one part of the answer to better serve and protect Drug Endangered Children. Beyond financial assistance and grants, we must continue working with our state, local and tribal partners to ensure better collaboration and to put our energy and efforts to more effective uses. This is exactly the role the Federal Interagency Task Force on Drug Endangered Children, or DEC Task Force, seeks to play.
We established the DEC Task Force in 2010 in response to the Administration’s 2010 National Drug Control Strategy. It has been my honor to chair this Task Force, which benefits from active participation from multiple department components, as well interagency partners, including the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Homeland Security.
I know that I don’t need to explain to any of you why this effort is so important, but one of our first missions with this Task Force was to make sure that the importance of DEC was understood more broadly. We wanted to use this Task Force to expand the partnership on a federal government level and engage new partners. To do this we just needed to highlight that helping DEC is not only the right thing to do, but also part of our responsibility in ensuring justice, health and safety of vulnerable young members of our communities.
We shared the sad fact that, all too often, today’s drug endangered child becomes tomorrow’s substance abuser or criminal offender. By helping these children as early as possible, we can benefit them in two fundamental ways. Not only can we provide a better future for each child served, but we can also create safer communities around them. Others recognized the importance and value of this work, and as a result, we developed a Task Force that enjoys active participation by over eight federal agencies and over 80 participants in total.
As you know, the DEC movement has grown both in focus and impact over the past ten years. And while some DEC efforts in the field remain meth-specific, many others now include a broad spectrum of drugs. One of our first tasks at our initial DEC Task Force meeting in May of 2010 was to create a consensus on our use of the term “Drug Endangered Children.” We agreed to a definition that would include a person under the age of 18 who lives in or is exposed to an environment where drugs, including pharmaceuticals, are used, possessed, trafficked, diverted or manufactured illegally.
Many of you will recognize aspects of our definition—but you may also notice some variances. For instance, we wanted our efforts to include all children under 18—including infants and older teens. Our definition also includes illegal use of legal, pharmaceutical drugs, which has recently become a fast-growing area of crime. Additionally, our definition includes the children harmed by the many facets of the drug industry—from the childcare provider who is a trafficker to the parent who is a user—and from the many types of drugs causing these harms, not just methamphetamine.
Our Task Force members quickly realized that there was no end to the ways these children need and deserve our help, but that there were limits to the impact we might have—both because of the unfortunate reality that we don’t have infinite resources and because most of the necessary efforts would need to occur outside of our purview on the state and local level. We also agreed that we wanted to be both ambitious and realistic in setting our goals to raise awareness of DEC, to identify promising practices, and to increase opportunities for DEC training.
In order to accomplish these objectives, we engaged partners within and far beyond government to gather critical information about how to carry this work forward. And in doing so – and after realizing that there was not even a consolidated review of the DEC-related efforts already underway at the federal level – we set out to collect and review the current DEC efforts within two months of the Task Force’s formation.
In our outreach, we also learned how critical it is to simply raise awareness of the existence of DEC in our communities. In order to accomplish this goal, we launched a public awareness campaign in May of 2011. At this event, I was joined by Attorney General Holder, ONDCP Director Kerlikowske and DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, who moderated a panel discussion featuring the Attorney General and actors from the HBO hit series, The Wire. We used that opportunity to announce the launch of the DEC website, which is linked to the White House’s homepage at White House.gov. With the support of our COPS office we also released a CD based toolkit which provides resources identified and created by the Task Force. We continue to seek additional opportunities —on the local, state and federal levels—to bring these children out from the isolation of their homes and into the general awareness of their communities.
From speaking with you and other partners in the field, we learned that the most successful efforts are those that capitalize on the resources of a multi-disciplinary team. That is the model we created at the Federal level and asked others to do at the local, state and tribal level.
As a result, several of our U.S. Attorneys have taken on this challenge. One great example is our US Attorney in South Carolina, Bill Nettles, who convened an Orangeburg DEC Task Force with the county Solicitor and Department of Public Safety Chief - together with federal, state, and local law enforcement - as well as a strong contingent of community leaders, including first responders, educators, ministers, social service professionals, victim advocates, child advocates, and health care and treatment professionals. Since their initial meeting in March of 2011, they have made great strides in better serving DEC. They have created a Protocol, which has been signed by 10 regional agencies and service providers. As part of this Protocol, children now are declared victims on the police reports, opening them up for more potential funding for services. As a result, within just a month of signing the Protocol, children who before would not have been declared victims of their situation had a multi-disciplinary team monitoring their progress and providing support. In addition, at the inaugural Orangeburg DEC Task Force training seminar last January, which included over 60 local individuals representing multiple disciplines and professions, three officers from the North Charleston, SC Police Department were so moved that they decided to start their own DEC program, now dubbed the Low Country DEC Coalition.
Another promising practice you, in the field, identified is having checklists available to help first responders identify and plan, in advance, when children may be present on the scene of an arrest. As a result, our Task Force now offers specific checklists for Law Enforcement, Child Protective and Child Welfare Services, Medical First Responders, Prosecutors, and Educators. We have made these and other resources available in one, easy to use toolkit, which is available on our CD, from our COPS office, and on the DEC website.
We also know how important it is to provide DEC training, so we have increased DEC training for law enforcement on the Federal level. Our Task Force partner, the Department of Homeland Security, has made great strides in including DEC training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. The DEA, as you may know, has also been on the forefront of the DEC initiative for a long time by mandating training at all domestic offices and by heightening DEC awareness in presentations at conferences and trainings across the country.
The US Marshals Service (USMS) is yet another key partner in providing Federal DEC training. The USMS arrests over 120,000 fugitives per year and covers over 100 houses each day while conducting fugitive and other USMS investigations. After participating in the DEC Task Force and attending this conference last year, the USMS created DEC lesson plans in their Basic Deputy Training and their Advanced Deputy Training Program. To date, they have taught DEC in nine classes, and are scheduled to offer eight training courses in FY 13, starting next week. The USMS is creating an online DEC course for all operational personnel, which they hope to develop this fiscal year. I commend Inspector Taker and Inspector Nelson, who are representing the USMS here today, for the great work that USMS is doing to better serve DEC.
Most importantly, we recognize that it takes all of us working together to make this effort successful. Outstanding training events such as this annual conference demonstrate the benefits of increased collaboration and partnership. Your participation in this conference not only helps to improve your individual skills, but also helps to advance our critical efforts to protect our children from child exploitation, neglect and abuse.
At the Department of Justice, we are fully aware of how critically important, and oftentimes life-saving, this work really is for countless children nationwide. It is critically important to the children whom we prevent from experiencing the trauma of living in a drug-abusing home or being torn from parent during a drug arrest. And it is critically important to the health and prosperity of our country to end the cycle of crime and substance abuse.
I am proud that protecting our children has been one of the Department’s highest priorities. But we cannot do it alone. We cannot simply arrest and prosecute our way out of the growing epidemic of drug abuse, trafficking, and addiction by parents and childcare providers. Saving these children requires a multi-disciplinary approach involving coordinated teams comprised of law enforcement, child protective services, healthcare professionals, educators, victim service specialists, child advocates, courts, and the community. It requires all of us.
This work is difficult and gut wrenching. I want to thank you for your willingness to take this on. We are grateful for your dedication to serve and protect Drug Endangered Children. Every day we work to identify and help a drug endangered child is a day that gets us closer to our goal – a world in which every child can grow up safe and able to realize his or her full potential.