Esta Soler Testifies Before Attorney General Eric Holder’'s Task Force

Yesterday Futures Without Violence founder and president Esta Soler testified before Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The public hearing stemmed from Attorney General Holder’s Defending Childhood initiative, which was launched in 2011 to harness resources from across the Department of Justice to prevent, mitigate the negative impact of, and develop knowledge about children's exposure to violence.

Those also in attendance included task force co-chairs Joe Torre, chairman of the board for the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation and Robert Listenbee Jr., chief of the Juvenile Unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

The hearing addressed the need to educate youths early on, to best identify new and productive practices, programming and community strategies and ultimately prevent their exposure to violence. “Witnessing or experiencing violence impacts how a child develops physically, intellectually and emotionally,” Soler said this morning during her testimony. “We need to get to the kids early and often. For every child who is growing up witnessing violence and abuse, we need to help them find those things that let them thrive.”

Soler also presented five recommendations to ensure futures without violence against children:

  1. Start Early: Identify kids who are being hurt and help them through it; create social norms that prevent violence from escalating or beginning in the first place, from conducting routine screenings to identify individuals and communities suffering from exposure to violence; establish broad-based prevention programs within the health care system, schools and youth-serving organizations to “inoculate” children from future violence.
  2. Focus Efforts on Key Developmental Stages: Early childhood and early adolescence are critical times developmentally when it comes to preventing violence. Among children aged nine to 12--when they are developing their ability to form and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships--intervene with those who have already experienced extensive and multiple traumas- before they start engaging in behaviors that make them dangerous to themselves or others.
  3. Change Public Policies to Support Prevention and Healing for Children and Families: With the implementation of health care reform, states will now have more resources and increased pressure to focus on prevention and early intervention services as a way to improve health. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has programs that focus on prevention and early intervention with children and youth that have yet to be fully funded. The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funds can go to help children who are victims of violence and abuse. This would come from money collected from criminal penalties that goes to serve victims of crime. Lifting the cap on distribution of these funds could create new revenue for services without any new government outlays. In addition, the mental health system can benefit from better training and adequately reimbursed to take on deeply complex tasks like helping a child who has been a victim of violence, often through more family-based interventions.
  4. Stop Spending Money on Things that Don’t Work: Rather than depending on the incarceration of young people, particularly in "boot camp" facilities, punitive juvenile justice facilities and adult prisons, invest in the programs that address the trauma and violence and help them heal and thrive. Keep kids in school and connected to safe and stable adults, to actively oppose zero-tolerance policies that drive the most troubled (and even mild offenders) out of schools and away from what may be the most safe and stable place they have in their lives. Currently, $7 billion goes annually to pay for out of home placements for children who have been taken from their homes; $900 million goes to prevention and protection services, with the vast majority of that funding going to support child welfare agencies as opposed to services for families.
  5. Make it a Public Issue: There is a role all Americans can play, from coaches to teachers to parents to neighbors, to ensure a safer and healthier childhood for young people. To find out how you can take part in the solution, or for more information about the Defending Childhood Task Force, visit www.justice.gov/defendingchildhood and www.justice.gov/defendingchildhood/task-force.html.

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