Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
14th Annual Colloquium of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
June 22, 2006
Thank you, Ron [Laney]. I want to salute Ron and his staff for all the outstanding work they do to protect our children and to make our communities safer.
I'm pleased to be here on behalf of Assistant Attorney General Regina Schofield.
As part of an agency whose mission is to help ensure public safety, Assistant Attorney General Schofield and I consider the welfare of our young people one of OJP's key responsibilities. We believe that our ability to help protect children is the true test of our effectiveness.
The safety and welfare of children is a concern for everyone in this Administration, and we are all mindful of the many challenges you face as you work to prevent harm to children and to treat those who have suffered.
As we all know, child welfare experts, the medical profession, law enforcement, and others are working together to prevent and treat child maltreatment.
Here at this conference, our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will be conducting a number of sessions that highlight this important partnership. Among the topics that will be discussed are:
- Investigative Interviewing of Children,
- Conducting Child Prostitution Investigations,
- Reconstructing Child Abuse Injury,
- Combatting Internet Crimes Against Children, and
- Improving Courtroom Presentations.
I encourage you to attend these sessions!
Now that I've finished the commercial about our workshops, I'd like to update you about some of our efforts to protect children and teens.
One of our most widely known programs is AMBER Alert. This year marks the 10th anniversary of this emergency response system set up to find and recover abducted children.
Since it began, AMBER has helped to recover 277 children. It also has given would-be abductors fewer and fewer opportunities for committing crimes.
And, I'm happy to say that we've adapted the program as technology has evolved. AMBER began as a partnership between law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation departments, and the public.
We're still bringing in partners, from the public as well as the private sector.
For example, we've worked with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and CTIA-The Wireless Association to bring the wireless industry in as an AMBER Alert partner.
We call this effort the Wireless AMBER Alerts Initiative. Wireless subscribers are able to register to receive AMBER Alert messages directly through text messages on their cell phones and PDAs.
It's a free program, and you can register for the wireless text messages at: www.amberalert.gov
Currently, 11 wireless companies have signed on to the agreement, and their involvement has the potential to reach 190 million wireless customers.
We're working to strengthen AMBER in other ways. One of our goals for the coming year is to involve Canadian and Mexican authorities in our efforts.
Just as abductors don't heed state boundaries when they flee with children, they also don't respect international borders. We've included the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Mexican state police in our AMBER working group. We'll work actively with them to make them part of our network.
And we're beginning to work with tribal officials to eliminate the jurisdictional obstacles that can arise if an abductor crosses into tribal lands, or if a child is taken from tribal lands into another part of the country.
We're exploring ways to improve our response to missing and abducted children who don't fall within the purview of AMBER through the newly formed Child Abduction Response Teams, or CARTs.
CARTs provide a mechanism for responding to cases involving missing and abducted children, many of which do not meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert.
Florida's coordinated effort on these CART cases has been a model for other states. We are now working together to implement a program that will provide a national framework that states can use in coordinating their responses to missing children cases.
Since the beginning of the year, we've held six trainings to create regional CARTs, and we have four more scheduled before the end of the year. The next session will be held in Greenville, South Carolina, on July 24 through 28.
We're also actively involved in other efforts to protect children. For example, last summer, our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention awarded more than $6 million to 15 communities nationwide under a new component of the Safe Start program called "Promising Approaches for Children Exposed to Violence."
Safe Start works to curb children's exposure to violence by improving cooperation between service providers, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, and representatives of the juvenile justice system.
Its goal is to create a comprehensive system of services for young people and their families to blunt the impact of the violence that surrounds them.
We know how very vulnerable children are, and we know that proximity to crime and violence can have a devastating effect on growth and development. Safe Start will give children in these communities the chance for a healthy beginning.
Another program that increased in scope and effectiveness since it was launched last summer is the National Sex Offender Public Registry. As you may know, all states have sex offender registries. Their purpose is to give parents and concerned citizens access to information that will help protect their children.
Until now, though, Americans have never been able to initiate a search across states. To be sure that someone was not a sex offender, a member of the public would have to go to each state site individually. The Attorney General thought something was wrong with the idea of making people do that kind of leg work to protect their kids.
So, we went to work to create a free, easy-to-use Web site that would link all state and territory public sex offender registries.
Today, we now have 48 states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of Guam linked to the site. At the end of the month, all 50 states will be on board!
Then all users will have instant access to information on all 560,000 registered sex offenders in the United States.
It's important to note that the national registry is not a separate repository. The information is controlled and maintained by the states. The national registry simply standardizes the data and allows that data to flow smoothly from the different state registries. And, it doesn't cost the states a dime.
Shielding children from harm and exploitation today involves more than keeping them out of physical proximity to criminals. It also involves monitoring what goes on in the home, specifically with computers and the Internet. According to a Justice Department survey, "one in five children [10 to 17 years old] receive unwanted sexual solicitations online."
Today's technology can help busy parents, but it can become one more source of concern if parents aren't aware of how criminals use computers to prey on the unsuspecting, particularly children.
We are working to help parents meet this additional responsibility. We're providing more information on Internet safety to children and parents. We're creating filters and other controls that prevent criminal access to children. And we're giving children places to turn for help when they are approached by criminals in cyberspace.
In early May, Attorney General Gonzales launched Project Safe Childhood. He has given us an aggressive timetable and agenda.
This Department of Justice initiative aims to prevent the online exploitation and abuse of children.
OJP plays a critical role in Project Safe Childhood, particularly through its Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, Task Force Program.
This year, we provided more than $14 million to support the efforts of the 46 ICAC task forces operating across the country. These task forces help federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies develop effective responses to cybercrime by providing resources to aid in preventing and investigating these crimes against children.
We're also supporting three Internet safety programs. i-Safe is a K through 12 curriculum for teachers to educate their students about safety risks on the Internet. NetSmartz is an Internet-based program designed for use by after-school programs and families. And Web Wise Kids uses an interactive, multi-media computer game [called Missing] to teach younger teens [11 to 14 year olds] about how to protect themselves from online predators while they use the Internet.
And, unfortunately, there are dangers that teens face in the real world. The lives of many of them are marred by drugs and alcohol.
I know that the spread of methamphetamine concerns many of you, particularly those of you who live in the western and mid-western states. The problem is spreading rapidly eastward as well.
We recently published a report by our National Institute of Justice called Methamphetamine Use: Lessons Learned. The report highlights law enforcement efforts to crack down on meth and trends in meth use.
Through our Office for Victims of Crime, we've also funded a new initiative to create a National Drug Endangered Children Resource Center.
The resource center will provide critical information to local, tribal, state, and federal agencies, on how to help children harmed by drug abuse, including meth.
A comprehensive list of resources and training opportunities from across the government and throughout the country is available at MethResources.gov. If you haven't already, I'd encourage you to visit that site.
I'm sure that everyone in this room knows that alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America's youth. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a higher percentage of young people aged 12 to 20 use alcohol (29 percent) than use tobacco (24 percent) or illicit drugs (14 percent).
SAMHSA's data also show that more than 11 percent of 12-year olds reported using alcohol at least once. By age 13, the percentage doubles. nd by age 15, it is more than 50 percent.
And sadly, each year, about 5,000 young people, under the age of 21, die as a result of underage drinking-- from car crashes, homicides, suicides, and the deaths as a result of other injuries such as falls, burns, and drowning.
In April, through our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, we announced more than $17 million in block grants to the 50 states and the District of Columbia to enforce state and local underage drinking laws [roughly $350,000 a state].
The states use these grants in a variety of ways:
- They emphasize compliance checks of retail alcohol outlets to reduce sales to minors.
- They conduct crackdowns on false identification;
- They support programs to reduce the provision of alcohol to minors by older youth or adults, and organize "party patrols" to prevent access to alcohol at large youth gatherings.
- And they set-up "cops in shops" programs to deter minors attempts to purchase alcohol, and design youth-focused campaigns to enforce impaired driving laws.
The last topic I'd like to mention is teen dating violence.
Recent studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association show that one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. These studies also show that females aged 16-24 are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other age group.
I don't have to tell you that research has consistently demonstrated that teens (both boys and girls) who are exposed to, or victimized by, abuse are at increased risk of delinquency and for becoming abusive as adults.
Our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, through a grant to the American Bar Association is supporting the ABA's National Teen Dating Violence Prevention Initiative.
The goal of the project is to confront the prevalence of teenage dating violence in our nation's high schools through a comprehensive, high school-based effort involving education, awareness, and prevention.
During National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week in February, the ABA distributed 1,000 toolkits to high schools across the nation. Requests are pending for almost 1,000 more of the toolkits, which help teens, their families, community professionals, youth groups, and other organizations work together to develop effective prevention strategies.
In September, we will be addressing this issue in roundtables convened with our Office of Violence Against Women.
We're also supporting a new, free National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, administered by the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. The Online Hotline, which will be available nationally later in the year, will assist sexual assault survivors who are more comfortable using the Internet than the telephone to search for services. We believe the hotline will be a very appealing option for teenagers.
Of course, none of us has easy answers to the many challenges and issues that face youth.
As Attorney General Gonzales has said, and I quote, "There is no greater measure of our nation's compassion or our humanity as a people than how we protect, raise, and care for our children." End quote.
Indeed, what better standard of our worth could we establish than the welfare and safety of our young people?
We will continue to look to each of you for guidance as we shape new initiatives. And we hope you will turn to us for information and help as you seek to prevent child abuse and to treat those who need your compassion and care. Only by working together will we achieve success.
Thank you, and God bless.