Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Children’s Alliance 2008 Leadership Conference
June 17, 2008
Thank you, Ron. I’m happy to be here today.
We have a longstanding partnership with the NCA and have been working with you to ensure that the child advocacy centers have the tools and training they need to do their jobs.
Our partnership dates to 1993 when NCA received an initial operations grant from our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to build its infrastructure.
In 1994, these initial activities were expanded to grants for programs across the country. Since then, NCA has expanded its reach and provided support to communities interested in developing or strengthening their multidisciplinary approach to investigating, prosecuting and treating child abuse and neglect. To date, NCA has received more than $78 million dollars to fund its efforts.
In 2006, we entered into a new five-year memorandum of understanding with NCA and the four regional child advocacy centers to create a national management team, build upon the core training curricula and develop a national consultant pool. This national management team has coordinated and improved training and technical assistance efforts for programs across the nation, and used new technology to expand outreach efforts.
We know from our research that childhood abuse and neglect have extraordinary implications for future offending. Research commissioned by our National Institute of Justice shows that children who are abused and neglected are 11 times more likely to be arrested for a violent crime as a juvenile. And we can’t underestimate the importance of interrupting this cycle of violence.
The Department of Justice has spent a great deal of time and resources over the past several years addressing youth violence. Late in 2006, I joined several of my Justice Department colleagues on visits to cities around the country to find out what was contributing to rising crime rates in some areas.
What we heard from local officials disturbed us. As you might expect, we heard that each city had unique issues. At the same time, we identified several underlying themes. For example, we found that:
- Juvenile violence is becoming more serious, with a younger population of offenders committing more violent acts.
- Gang members, some of them as young as 12 and 13, are carrying firearms and using them impulsively and recklessly.
- And large numbers of released felons are entering communities and coming into contact with young people, creating a kind of perverse mentoring system.
You can see a pattern, namely that youth crime has become a serious problem in many communities.
Now, we don’t know for a fact that all of these juvenile offenders were abused or neglected. But what we do know is that their actions as juveniles are having a profound, negative impact on the safety of their communities. Given the strong link between child abuse and youth violence, the job of intervening in the life of an abused or neglected child becomes more than an isolated humanitarian act – it is an urgent public safety matter.
Stepping in on behalf of abused and neglected children, no matter where they are, is critical, but the need is more pressing in certain areas. For example, children in tribal communities are among those with the greatest need. Native American children are among the most victimized children in the United States, and it follows that they are over-represented in the child welfare system.
Compounding the comparatively high rates of abuse and neglect in Indian country are limited resources and a complex web of jurisdictional issues that can make it a serious challenge to secure a child’s safety. Tribes are hamstrung by a combination of factors, including high rates of poverty and unemployment, insufficient human services, and remote geography.
Tribal members also are vulnerable to substance abuse and drug-related crimes, which ultimately, if not immediately, impact children and youth. The influx of methamphetamine into some tribal communities is a perfect example. We heard testimony from the National Congress of American Indians that of the thousands of cases handled by California Indian Legal Services, almost every case in which a child has been taken from the home involves at least one parent who uses meth.
This year, OJP will support the work of the National Children’s Alliance as they expand access to children’s advocacy centers and trained multidisciplinary teams to counties across the nation that are currently un-served or underserved.
We also will work with NCA to improve the quality of services to abused and neglected children by targeting existing barriers to meeting the national standards for accredited children’s advocacy center programs.
In addition, our work with NCA will maximize resources and bring outstanding training opportunities to rural, isolated, and underserved communities through national training and technical assistance partnership initiatives. We look forward to working together on all of these important efforts.
Of course, these days shielding children from harm and exploitation involves more than keeping them out of the physical proximity to criminals. It also involves monitoring what goes on in the home, specifically with the Internet, and the growing number of devices that kids can use to access it.
Earlier this month, we held a briefing in recognition of Internet safety month to raise awareness among adults and kids about how to protect themselves while they are online.
In addition, the Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood is a Department-wide effort to address computer-facilitated child sexual exploitation and abuse. It involves enforcement, prosecution, and safety measures.
The Office of Justice Programs plays a critical role in Project Safe Childhood through its Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program, or ICAC, as we call it.
The ICAC program helps federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies coordinate their responses to cybercrimes targeting kids. It now supports 59 intergovernmental task forces nationwide.
These task forces have been pivotal in shutting down online operations that prey upon the young.
I understand that one of your sessions tomorrow will address how you can work with the ICAC task forces in your area.
Another way we work to protect against sexual predators is through the National Sex Offender Public Registry managed by our Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking, or SMART Office, for short. All states have their own sex offender registries. Their purpose is to give parents and concerned citizens access to information that will help protect their children.
The National Sex Offender Public Registry is an easy-to-use, free Web site that links all state and territory public sex offender registries.
Today, 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam are linked to the site, and the two remaining states are working to sign on. Once they do, users will have instant access to information on all 560,000 registered sex offenders in the United States.
The SMART Office also is responsible for providing states with guidance regarding the implementation of the Adam Walsh Act, and providing grants and technical assistance to the states, territories, Indian tribes, local governments, and to public and private organizations related to the registration, notification, tracking and monitoring of sex offenders.
These are some of the major efforts we’ve undertaken to protect children. As you can see, we’re doing a great deal, but staying ahead of the curve will require hard work and vigilance.
It also will require working together. If we are to put an end to the insidious threats facing our children, we need to look to each other for help and guidance. No one person has the solution to these problems, and no one agency has the resources to address them.
Thank you for inviting me to join you today. Again, I’d to congratulate all of you on the work you do to better the lives of our country’s children.