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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Defending Childhood Initiative Press Conference


Cleveland, OH
United States

Thank you, Steve. It’s a pleasure to be back in Cleveland. And it’s a privilege to join with you, County Executive Fitzgerald – and so many dedicated partners – to discuss an exciting step forward in our ongoing fight to protect the safety, health, and potential of our young people.

This morning, I’m pleased to announce that the United Way’s 2-1-1 “call-for-service” line is now partnering with the Justice Department, and other key stakeholders, to more effectively identify – and assist – children who’ve been exposed to violence. The 2-1-1 community access line – which already operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – has proven to be a critical tool in enabling members of the public to access help with foreclosure prevention, as well as general health and human service needs. And, now, members of the community can also call 2-1-1 to access screening, assessment, and treatment services for children who have been victims of – or witnesses to – violence.

This new service is the result of strong leadership – by local officials, service providers, and advocates; and of strong support – from the Cleveland Foundation and the United Way of Greater Cleveland. And I’m confident that it will enhance the important work that’s now underway here in Cleveland – and in other cities currently working to reduce high rates of community violence – as part of the Justice Department’s landmark Defending Childhood Initiative.

All 2-1-1 staff have been trained to help determine whether the treatment services that are available here in Cleveland – as part of this city’s Defending Childhood Initiative – should be utilized. As a result, we expect community-based agencies and mental health organizations to be able to respond more effectively in screening, assessing, and treating the young people who need our help and – when necessary – engaging the appropriate authorities.

This marks yet another important step forward for the Defending Childhood Initiative – and for the children and communities we’re working to serve. Two years ago, the Department launched this initiative for one simple, unfortunate reason: we are facing a national crisis. In America today, the majority of children – more than 60 percent of them – have been exposed to violence at some point in their lives, often repeatedly. Here in Cuyahoga County, nearly two-thirds of at-risk children have seen someone beaten up in their own neighborhoods; and a quarter of these young people have experienced violence in their own homes. This is an alarming problem – with devastating, often long-term, consequences.

Research has shown that children who experience and witness violence are more likely than their peers to abuse drugs and alcohol. They are at a heightened risk – not only for depression, anxiety, and other post-traumatic disorders – but also for developing chronic diseases, having trouble forming emotional attachments, and committing acts of violence themselves. Fortunately, studies also have revealed that intervention and treatment can be highly effective, and that it is possible to counter the negative impact of violence – and to help our children heal, grow, and thrive.

That’s one reason why today’s announcement – and the effort to more effectively connect children in need with the assistance and support that can improve their lives and their communities – is so promising. I’m confident that it will build on the $2 million investment that the Justice Department awarded to Cuyahoga County last year, as part of the Defending Childhood Initiative. These resources have helped to bring more than 150 public and private sector experts from across the Cleveland area together in recent months – to analyze public safety strategies and diagnostic tools; to develop violence prevention plans; and to find the most effective ways to identify children who’ve been exposed to violence, assess their level of trauma, and map out a proper course of treatment.

This is precisely the type of broad-based engagement and local leadership that my colleagues and I had in mind when we launched the Defending Childhood Initiative – in order to make federal funding, resources, and experts available to relevant authorities in eight jurisdictions nationwide . Since last year – when I visited the Boys and Girls Club on Fleet Avenue, and heard about the challenges facing young people in this area – we’ve been actively engaged in driving this effort forward right here in Cleveland.

In fact, earlier today, I had the chance to meet with a number of the men and women who have been helping to guide our efforts here in Cuyahoga County – from policy experts like Elsie Day, to law enforcement leaders like U.S. Attorney Dettelbach and Cleveland Police Chief McGrath – and even public health professionals like Dr. Barksdale, Chief of Surgery at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. I also had the privilege of hearing from a few of the students who have been instrumental in guiding, informing, and raising awareness about our ongoing work – and our latest effort to identify, screen, and treat kids in need.

As a result of their extraordinary efforts, hundreds of area children have already undergone the initial screening process since it was implemented by local authorities in July. With today’s announcement – which opens this process to the general public, and which should allow approximately 1,000 children to be screened, assessed, and – if necessary – treated each month – I am confident that we can continue to extend the momentum that’s been established here in Cleveland.

This morning, as this work begins to enter a new phase, I’d like to thank all of the leaders, partners, and supporters gathered here – for your hard work, dedication, and steadfast commitment to protecting the young people who need, and deserve, our help. I look forward to the progress that we will continue to make – together.

It’s now my pleasure to introduce another key leader of this effort – and a proud former FBI agent – Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald, who will provide additional details about the 2-1-1 service line.

Updated December 16, 2016