The U.S. Attorney General’s Defending Childhood Initiative had its first meeting at the Washington Plaza Hotel in D.C. on January 25-26-27, 2011. Representatives of the eight demonstration sites across the country, Justice Department leaders, and researchers gathered to exchange ideas and plans.
The $5.5 million Defending Childhood Initiative, announced September 23, 2010, provided in Phase I some $1.2 million for eight demonstration sites. Multnomah County Department of Human Services (Portland OR), Shelby County (Memphis TN), and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (SD) were among the six cities and two Tribal Nations. In Phase II, up to four communities will be selected from the initial eight to receive funding for further implementation.
Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli opened the grantee meetings on Tuesday morning by emphasizing the collaborative approach to deal with the unacceptable reality that our children are exposed to an intolerably high level of violence. "the Justice Department is committing to a comprehensive approach to a pervasive problem." He stated, "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 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", Perrelli noted.
Addressing the representatives from the eight sites, Perrelli continued, "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."
The Office of Justice Programs partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to sponsor the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence. This study was conducted by researchers at the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire and Sherry Hamby, Research Associate Professor of Psychology at Sewanee. The survey found that children experience far more violence, abuse, and crime than do adults. Attorney General Eric Holder described the 2008 study as "the first comprehensive assessment of children as victims and witnesses of crime, abuse, and violence from infancy to age 17. The results were a wake-up call, and warning bell, for all of us."
Dr. Hamby, who is the founding editor of the new American Psychological Association journal Psychology of Violence, was among the researchers attending the meeting. On Wednesday afternoon, Attorney General Holder’s remarks included
- "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."