Confronting Violence Against Children: Ideas From the Defending Childhood Task Force’s Hearing in Albuquerque



Confronting Violence Against Children: Ideas From the Defending Childhood Task Force’s Hearing in Albuquerque

Karin Drucker

The news about former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky recently captured the attention of a nation that has been reluctant to discuss violence against children. However, if one message emerged from the most recent hearing of the Attorney General's National Defending Childhood Task Force, it was this: Violence against children is everyone's problem.

The hearing, held in Albuquerque on January 31, explored the unique challenges facing rural and tribal populations. A previous hearing in Baltimore focused on research on children's exposure to violence (CEV) and family and school-based violence. Building on lessons learned from previously funded research and programs such as Safe Start, the Child Development–Community Policing Program, and the Greenbook Initiative, the Defending Childhood Initiative leverages existing resources across the Department of Justice to focus on preventing, addressing, reducing, and more fully understanding childhood exposure to violence.

The hearing's focus on the needs of tribal communities reflects a key commitment of the overall Defending Childhood Initiative, which has named the Rosebud Sioux and Chippewa Cree Tribes as demonstration sites for multi-year anti-violence projects.

As described in this article from the New York Times, CEV is endemic in many tribal communities. American Indian youth die at rates far exceeding national statistics; high school dropout rates are roughly 40%; and sexual assault, child abuse and neglect, and substance abuse all contribute to dangerous environments for children.

Historically, mainstream criminal justice and social services have struggled to coordinate with tribes on issues such as child protection and prosecution of crime, including violence against children, that occurs on or near reservations. The task force has worked to collaborate with tribes to solicit strategies to address issues like these. It also hopes to buoy the strengths in American Indian/Alaska Native communities, such as treatment models for CEV that incorporate AI/AN traditions.

Dr. Dolores Subia BigFoot of the Indian Country Child Trauma Center, University of Oklahoma; Coloradas Mangas of the Center for Native American Youth; and Elsie Boudreau of the Alaska Native Justice Center all spoke eloquently about the need to include traditional practices in violence prevention and the treatment of trauma, particularly historical trauma that crosses generations.

Task force co-chair Joe Torre, Chairman of the Board of the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation and former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees, noted, "People hurt, and they hurt for the same reason," but "[we need to] approach it differently for different people." The task force is not shying away from the diverse, complex, and difficult causes of CEV. Rather than search for simple or cookie-cutter answers, the task force is taking on the more difficult task of working with national experts to search for nuanced and effective solutions.

Still, the Albuquerque hearing reminded us that solutions also rely on common responsibility. Dr. Bigfoot offered four things she urges everyone do to "teach children that they are sacred":

  • Greet your child by name with each new dawn.
  • Have your child hear you pray or offer a blessing on their behalf each day.
  • Read or tell your child a story each day.
  • Feed your child with food and laughter each day.

The task force's next hearing will take place in Miami, Florida, from March 19–21, 2012, at the University of Miami Newman Alumni Center. The hearing is open to the public, but if you can't make it to Miami, you can register to attend via webinar. The webinars will be broadcast on March 20, 2012, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. EST, and March 21, 2012, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Register to attend Day 1:

Register to attend Day 2:

The task force will issue a final report in late 2012 with recommendations compiled from all four hearings, two listening sessions, and oral and written testimony from members of the public. Follow the task force's work on the task force homepage and watch video footage of the hearings here. Click here for instructions on how you can submit written testimony to the task force. 

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