Thank you, Mary Lou [Leary]. I appreciate your kind words – and I’m especially grateful for your leadership of the Office of Justice Programs, and your commitment to the goals of this critical Forum. I’d also like to thank the many Administration leaders, federal agency partners – and particularly OJP staff members – who have worked so hard to bring us together today. Each of you has an essential role to play in advancing the Justice Department’s efforts to prevent and combat violence among – and directed toward – our nation’s young people. And I am proud to stand with you this morning.
It’s a privilege to join my colleagues, Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius and Secretary [Shaun] Donovan, in welcoming such a diverse group of partners – including my good friend Congressman [Bobby] Scott and Mayor [Antonio] Villaraigosa – back to our nation’s capital for today’s Summit. I’d like to thank each of you, as well as well as the United States Attorneys who are with us today – Pat Fitzgerald, Melinda Haag, Barb McQuade, Carmen Ortiz, and Ed Stanton – for your collaborative efforts in building a national dialogue about youth violence – and for your focus on sharing the resources and strategies we need to address every aspect of this problem – from law enforcement, to public health, to public housing – and far beyond.
This gathering constitutes the latest step forward in our ongoing conversation about some of the most urgent challenges our young people face. And it marks an important opportunity – not only to assess and celebrate the progress we’ve made since last year’s Summit – but to explore strategies for taking this work to the next level.
Perhaps more than any other group, I know the people in this room understand the persistent threats – and the significant obstacles – that lie ahead. I know each of you is here because you’ve seen the shocking statistics. You’ve heard the stories from young people directly. And – in communities across this country – you’ve stood on the front lines of the struggle against youth violence.
Especially in recent weeks – as the importance of protecting our children from harm has been at the forefront of our national discourse – the urgency of this challenge has been brought into stark focus. And the need to take action has never been more clear.
Today, we know that the majority of our young people – more than 60 percent of them, in fact – have been exposed to crime, abuse, and violence. We know that violence can take many forms, and that exposure can happen at home, during school, on our streets, and even online – where children face new and unprecedented threats every day. And we’ve seen that exposure to violence – as a witness or a victim – can have devastating, long-term effects on our children – increasing their chances for depression, substance-abuse, and violent behavior.
Recent analysis by Casey Family Programs – one of our nation’s leading child welfare foundations – provides a vivid illustration of what we’re up against. According to their findings, in just the last 24 hours – on average – more than 2,000 children were confirmed as victims of child abuse and neglect. Approximately four of those children, most likely under the age of five, died as a result. And roughly 16 young men between the ages of 10 and 24 became homicide victims.
This is not only alarming – it is unacceptable. And your efforts have sent the clear signal it cannot, and will not, be tolerated – and that, in this country, we will never give up on our children.
Fortunately, the level of understanding we’ve attained – and the diversity of perspectives represented here today – have empowered us to fight back. Since October, when we last came together to assess the Forum’s efforts, I know you’ve been busy putting your youth violence prevention plans into action at the local level, and bringing even more community leaders and stakeholders into this work. And, as we gather this morning, I understand that you have promising updates and innovations to share; success stories to highlight; and additional plans to unveil.
I’m confident that we will all benefit from the lessons you’ve learned. And I know everyone here is eager to capitalize on the sense of momentum you’ve helped to establish. Like many of you, I have seen the devastating effects of youth violence throughout my career. As a prosecutor and a judge, I saw the toll it exacts on communities, neighborhoods, and individual lives. As a U.S. Attorney, as Deputy Attorney General, I was determined to make the progress that our nation’s young people deserve. Today, as Attorney General – and as the father of three teenage children – I have made this work a top priority for our nation’s Department of Justice.
From the landmark Defending Childhood Initiative – which we launched in 2010 – to the work of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the groundbreaking research supported by the Office of Justice Programs – over the last few years, we’ve helped shed new light on complex youth violence issues and learn about the impacts of specific practices and policies. In close partnership with other Cabinet-level agencies like the Department of Education, we’re developing new strategies for understanding and disrupting some of the most urgent challenges our children face – including what’s become known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” that, in far too many communities, transforms our schools from doorways to opportunity into gateways to our correctional system. And in collaboration with state and local officials, academic experts, law enforcement officers, frontline practitioners, parents, coaches, and community leaders like all of you – from Boston to Chicago; from Detroit to Memphis; from Salinas to San Jose – we are reaching out, raising awareness – and making a meaningful, measurable difference in countless lives.
In fact, based on an independent assessment released last week, all six cities that are participating in this Forum have positive stories to report. These results are preliminary – but there’s no question that they constitute promising indications that – already – your comprehensive efforts are working. Our commitment is paying off. And we stand poised to build upon the strong foundation you’ve established.
That’s why – this morning – I am pleased to announce that we are currently developing plans to expand the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention to four additional cities – bringing our total up to ten. And we’ve released a new toolkit – which is available today at www.FindYouthInfo.gov – that will provide guidance on how to gather and use data on youth violence, identify community assets, and even enable additional communities to develop and implement comprehensive youth violence prevention plans of their own.
I am proud that the Justice Department has taken a central role in facilitating these efforts. And I am confident that the strategies you’re implementing will move us toward a new era of engagement, cooperation, and collaboration across local jurisdictions, state lines, and federal agencies. On behalf of my colleagues across both the Justice Department and the entire Administration, I want to pledge our ongoing support for your work.
Continuing the progress we celebrate today is not simply our professional obligation – it is our moral duty. Without question, we can be proud of all that the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention has already helped to accomplish. But, as I know every person here agrees, we cannot yet be satisfied. Today’s Summit presents an important opportunity to renew our commitment to these critical efforts, and to reaffirm our collective resolve: to protect our nation’s young people in every way we can. To empower our kids as well as we know how. And to challenge them to make good decisions – and to contribute to the work of strengthening our nation and honoring our founding principles of security, opportunity, and justice for all.
In advancing this work, I am grateful for your leadership. I am proud to count you as colleagues and as partners. And I look forward to where your efforts will take us from here.