Melodee Hanes, Acting Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
|At the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), we envision a nation where our children are healthy, educated, and free from violence. When youth come into contact with the juvenile justice system, it should be rare, fair, and beneficial to them.|
ongress has charged the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) with two primary responsibilities. First, we must address the needs of youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system and of those who are at risk of becoming involved with the system. At the same time, we must protect children in the United States who are victims of abuse, violence, and crime.
Decades of research have taught us that these two mandates are closely connected. Many youth entering the juvenile justice system have been previously exposed to violence and other traumatic events, often multiple times. And exposure to trauma increases the youths’ risk of entering the juvenile justice system. The National Institute of Justice reports that children who are abused or neglected are 59 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30 percent more likely to commit violent crime. Because of this connection, OJJDP emphasizes the importance of trauma-informed programs and services for children who are at risk of entering the juvenile justice system and for those who have entered the system.
In 2009, OJJDP began releasing the findings of the first National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), supported by our office and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey confirms that most of our society’s children are exposed to violence in their daily lives. More than 60 percent of the children surveyed were exposed to violence, crime, or abuse within the past year in their homes, schools, and communities. Nearly one-half of the children and adolescents surveyed were assaulted at least once in the past year, and
- more than 1 in 10 were injured in an assault;
- 1 in 4 were victims of robbery, vandalism, or theft;
- 1 in 10 suffered from child maltreatment (including physical and emotional abuse, neglect, or a family abduction); and
- 1 in 16 were victimized sexually.
Multiple victimizations were common:
- more than one-third experienced 2 or more direct victimizations in the previous year,
- more than 1 in 10 experienced 5 or more direct victimizations, and
- more than 1 in 75 experienced 10 or more direct victimizations.
But we are also now learning about the profound consequences of direct exposure to multiple types of violence, crime, and abuse, also known as polyvictimization. The same survey indicates that children and youth who are exposed to multiple types of violence are at particularly high risk for lasting physical, mental, and emotional harm, even compared with children who experience repeated exposures to a single type of violence.
The Defending Childhood Initiative, which the attorney general launched in September 2010, marshals resources across the Justice Department to prevent children’s exposure to violence, mitigate the negative effects of this exposure when it does occur, and place the topic of children’s exposure to violence front and center in the national conversation. OJJDP is working with select communities across the United States to develop and test community-wide, cross-sector models to prevent children’s exposure to violence. We also are evaluating our efforts to ensure that what we learn will be of use to other communities as they embark on similar efforts.
In 2011, the attorney general appointed a national task force of 13 experts—including IACP member, Long Beach, California, Police Chief Jim McDonnell—to recommend policies for preventing, responding to, and mitigating the effects of exposure to violence. Over a period of six months, the task force held listening sessions and public hearings across the United States with policy makers, researchers, victims, and youth safety advocates. Through these sessions, the task force received extensive input and testimony from experts, advocates, and impacted families and communities nationwide.
The task force recently presented its final report and comprehensive policy recommendations for launching a coordinated national response to address children’s exposure to violence. The report includes more than 50 recommendations and highlights the importance of identifying children who are victims or witnesses of violence and providing support and services to help them heal. It focuses on developing programs to help children access supportive and nonviolent relationships with trusted adults in their homes and communities. The task force also calls for all children who enter the juvenile justice system to be screened for exposure to violence. The recommendations are expected to serve as the blueprint for addressing the issue of children’s exposure to violence across the nation.
The law enforcement community is absolutely central to an effective response to children’s exposure to violence. When a call for police service is received, patrol officers usually arrive at the scene first where a child is being abused or where a child is witnessing violence. They have to quickly assess the situation and work with child protective services, medical and mental health services providers, and other community partners to address the needs of these children, ensure their physical safety, and collect and preserve evidence for a potential prosecution.
But too often, law enforcement, hospitals, schools, and social services agencies do not have the protocols and partnerships in place to coordinate an effective and timely response. And, as committed as our law enforcement professionals are, they are not routinely trained in these areas.
This is why OJJDP issued a solicitation in 2012 to provide urgently needed training and technical assistance resources to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to improve the prevention of, identification of, and response to children’s exposure to violence. Of 26 applicants, the IACP was rated the top candidate in peer review and was selected to receive a $750,000 award for a two-year grant period to expand its training resources to include a focus on children’s exposure to violence.
OJJDP will administer this program in partnership with the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Office for Victims of Crime; the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys; the Office on Violence Against Women; and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking.
The IACP will be partnering with Yale University’s National Center for Children Exposed to Violence and Childhood Violent Trauma Center. Yale has developed the Child Development–Community Policing Program, which helps build closer alliances among law enforcement, juvenile justice, domestic violence, medical, and mental health professionals, as well as schools, welfare, and other community agencies. This model, currently being implemented in communities across the country, will be a critical resource for the IACP to draw on in developing training resources in the area of child protection.
In addition, the IACP will be developing the following:
- Web-based trainings, videos, and pocket guides focused on children’s exposure to violence for law enforcement and their community partners.
- Cost-effective methods to increase coordination among law enforcement, multidisciplinary team members, and community partners.
- A national campaign to raise awareness among U.S. law enforcement professionals about issues related to children’s exposure to violence, through participation in local and state conferences, online articles, and educational workshops.
What a great opportunity lies ahead of all of us. Law enforcement is on the front lines of this heroic effort. Thank you for all you do every day to defend our children and to make our communities safer places in which to grow up and live. Children are our nation’s future. They deserve nothing less. ♦
Please cite as:
Melodee Hanes, "Law Enforcement’s Opportunity to Improve Juvenile Justice," From the Acting Administrator, The Police Chief 80 (March 2013): 18–19.