Defending Childhood Initiative


Defending Childhood: Protect, Heal, ThriveIn order to address the national crisis of the exposure of America’s children to  violence, Attorney General Eric Holder launched the groundbreaking Defending Childhood Initiative. In 2011, Futures Without Violence joined the Initiative as the national technical assistance provider for the eight sites. An historic effort, the Defending Childhood Initiative focuses on promoting safe and thriving communities by raising awareness and providing families with the essential services they need to break the cycle of violence. Prevention, intervention, treatment, and community organizing strategies will be integrated, to provide a comprehensive continuum of care to children and teens, ages 0 through 17.

In 2010 and 2011, DOJ awarded grants to eight cities and tribal communities to develop community-wide solutions:

Boston, MA
Cuyahoga County, OH 
City of Grand Forks, ND
Multnomah County, OR 
City of Portland, ME
Rocky Boy Reservation, MT
Rosebud Sioux Tribe, SD
Shelby County, TN

Boston, MA -- With a population of 617,659, Boston is the largest city in the New England region. Boston is comprised of many diverse neighborhoods, and there are major disparities among them. Compared with the residents of the four highest-income neighborhoods, residents of Boston’s four lowest income neighborhoods experience a 30% higher death rate from all causes. In 2010, the Boston Police Department responded to 9,230 domestic disputes. Sixty percent (60%) of calls involved an intimate partner and 60% of calls were concentrated in three police districts that serve the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.They are two and a half times as likely to die from diabetes, four times as likely to die of HIV/AIDS, and twice as likely to die from injuries. 22% of Boston’s youth live in poverty.

Boston is targeting three neighborhoods with the highest rates of violence, poverty, and other disparities--Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan with their project activities. Initiative staff are utilizing five main strategies: 1) implementing evidence-based Nurturing Parent Programs by five community-based organizations; 2) developing a training Institute and learning collaboratives to build knowledge and trauma-sensitive services across multiple sectors and levels; 3) developing and disseminating a youth led social marketing and community mobilization activities in the target neighborhoods; 4) providing resources to two community based health centers to each support a mental health clinician to serve children affected by domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking, and 5) policy change efforts to promote trauma-informed systems in multiple sectors serving children.

Cuyahoga County, OH —- Has an estimated population of 1,296,287, of which 439,013 is located in the city of Cleveland. 30% of Cleveland’s population lives below the poverty line, making it the second poorest major city in the United States. According to 2009 FBI Uniform Crime Report data, Cleveland also has one of the highest violent crime rates in the county (13.95 cases per 1,000 people).

Cuyahoga is addressing its high rates of community and domestic violence with a mix of 1) community awareness, 2) professional training, and 3) intervention infrastructure-building strategies throughout the whole county. Cuyahoga is implementing three main community awareness strategies: a broad awareness campaign, civic journalism projects, and a neighborhood-based “I Have the Power to Stop the Violence!” contest. They are also implementing evidence based intervention programs for children exposed to violence.

City of Grand Forks, ND -- Has a population of 66,414, spanning over 1,438 square miles, and children and youth under 18 make up 20% of the county population. According to the 2010 Grand Forks Public Schools Risk and Protective Factors Survey, 18% of 4th and 5th graders indicated that they had been physically harmed by someone in their family. Among 7th to 12th graders, 16% indicated that they had been physically harmed by someone in their family, and 20% reported having witnessed violence in their home, which did not include fights with siblings. In terms of bullying, 55% of 4th and 5th graders reported being bullied; this was lower (30%) for 7th to 12th graders.

Grand Forks is targeting the entire county with a special emphasis on underserved populations including rural residents, Native Americans, and new Americans. Strategies include: implementing violence prevention/healthy relationships curricula for students ages 3-17 in headstart, childcare programs, and schools. Additionally, Grand Forks will be doing training for coaches involved in community based sports leagues, including implementing the Coaching Boys into Men Program. Efforts will also focus on expanding the existing Healthy Families child maltreatment primary prevention program for children 0-3; enhancing restorative justice services and therapeutic services for children and youth, increasing data collection and coordination of services; developing public education campaigns; and extensive training.

Multnomah County, OR -- Has an estimated population of 698,599. Most of the residents of the county live in the city of Portland, OR, which has a population of 548,988. Based on the Community Needs Assessment conducted during the Defending Childhood Initiative planning phase, Portland, OR identified four primary ways that children and youth are exposed in their communities: domestic violence, child maltreatment (physical abuse, sex abuse, and neglect), teen dating violence and bullying. Portland Defending Childhood Initiative is also partnering closely with our local CDC funded STRYVE (Striving To Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere) project coordinator to address gang and community violence.

There are four main Defending Childhood Initiative project areas to help our systems and communities better recognize, respond to and prevent children’s exposure to violence: work force development and capacity building, technical assistance and support to school districts implementing safe school policies, alignment of local initiatives, and public education. We are also prioritizing parent-child mental health supports and social-emotional learning opportunities for families identified as being exposed to violence. Through partnering with child and family service systems across multiple disciplines, we are creating sustainable professional growth opportunities and program designs that will continue to serve children and youth long after the initiative is complete. We envision a community where parents and caregivers are supported to help their children heal, and where children are supported by their communities to thrive.

City of Portland, ME -- is Maine’s business, financial, and retail capital, and the largest city in the state. The population of the city is 64,000, while the metro population is 230,000, and home to about one fourth of the state’s residents. According to the City of Portland’s Public Health Division, the city reports substantially higher rates of domestic violence than the state of Maine (86.4 incidents per 10,000 residents vs. 41.2 per 10,000, respective annual averages from 2004 to 2006). Results from the 2009 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey showed that nearly one in five high school girls report being forced to have sexual contact, and a quarter of 5th and 6th graders report being bullied at school during the past year in Cumberland County.

Portland is currently implementing a comprehensive array of citywide strategies spanning prevention, intervention, public and professional awareness, and systems development. The Initiative is incorporating evidence-based violence prevention and healthy relationships curricula into an existing district-wide, school-based health education program. They are also working with community based agencies to implement Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and Child Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) for children exposed to violence (CEV), and will adapt the models to the needs and backgrounds of the immigrant/refugee population and to children ages 0 to 5.

Rocky Boy Reservation, MT -- Established by an act of Congress in 1916, The Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation is the home of the Chippewa Cree Tribe (CCT). Rocky Boy is the smallest reservation in Montana, at around 125,000 acres. An estimated 3,600 people live on the reservation, about 3,500 of which are American Indian. One of every four residents is under the age of 18 years and 50% are between the ages of 18 and 62. Rocky Boy suffers from high poverty and unemployment. The unemployment rate for adults is 70%, and the median household income is $22,824, compared to $33,024 for Montana as a whole. The Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation is also extremely geographically isolated.

The site is targeting the entire Rocky Boy Reservation by implementing multiple types of community awareness campaigns and several programs in schools including, Second Step; Families and School Together (FAST); and Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS). Rocky Boy is also developing tribal specific programming and the creation of support groups and Men's groups. They are also conducting numerous training initiatives, and implementing strategies to increase coordination and collaboration among service providers who interact with families impacted by violence.

Rosebud Sioux Tribe, SD -- is made up of 20 different communities spanning 922,759 acres (1,442 square miles) in South Central South Dakota. The reservation’s communities are spread throughout five U.S. counties—Todd, Mellette, Tripp, Gregory, and Lyman. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s enrollment statistics from 2009 show 28,375 enrolled members. The most recent Bureau of Indian Affairs American Indian Population and Labor Force Report found that in 2005 the unemployment rate was roughly 83%, with an average per-capita income of $7,500. Tribal Court data on adult criminal cases filed in 2010 show that after Alcohol or Drug Charges—of which there were 776 filed—the next most common offenses were Riot/Assaults Against Adults (214) and Domestic Abuse (209).

The Rosebud Tribe activities are targeted at the entire reservation and include: establishing tribal legislation and policy that is more responsive to children exposed to violence; increasing referrals to services; enhancing victim services; developing reporting protocols; and increasing coordination and date collection. The Rosebud tribe is also developing public awareness campaigns, implementing trainings and community forums, and creating culturally specific resources for youth and adults.

Shelby County, TN —- has a population of 927,644 as reported in 2010. In 2006, Memphis had the second highest violent crime rate in the country. 29% (72,000) of Shelby County children live in poverty, and the rate is as high as 55% in many census tracts. In addition, neighborhoods with the highest crime rates also have the highest density of children. 2010 data from the Memphis Police Department and Shelby County law enforcement, indicates approximately 25,000 incidents of domestic violence per year, half of which occur where children are present.

Shelby County is utilizing four strategies: 1) targeted prevention activities; 2) community awareness and engagement campaigns; 3) development of coordinated service delivery systems, 4) and policy reform efforts. Activities will include developing home visitation and parenting programs, implementing school based programming—Ghandian non-violence training, increased services for young children, the creation of youth councils, and training for a variety of professionals. The Initiative plans to engage in policy advocacy to explore changing state policies to decriminalize child prostitution and to require parents of children exposed to violence to participate in counseling or services as a condition of custody.

For more information on the initiative, contact Leiana Kinnicutt at (617) 702-2004 or

View all resources related to the Children's Program