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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 29, 1998

Reducing Violence in the Lives of Children

December 29, 1998

Today, President Clinton will launch a new Children Exposed to Violence Initiative (CEVI) designed to prevent violence against children and improve the way the justice system deals with children who are victims of or witnesses to violence. CEVI will include four components: (1) reforming state and federal laws to provide swift and certain punishment for those who commit child abuse and neglect; (2) improving the way the justice system treats children who are the victims of, or witnesses to, acts of violence; (3) strengthening local prevention and intervention programs directed towards children exposed to violence; and (4) increasing public awareness of this serious problem through a National Summit next May. To get this new effort underway, the President will announce the availability of $10 million in "Safe Start" grants from the Justice Department to help up to 12 cities reduce the impact of violence on young children.

The Need for Action

Too many child victims. The Department of Health and Human Services found that in 1996, three million children were maltreated or abused. Recent Department of Justice statistics show that last year, 2.8 million adolescents (12 to 17 year-olds) were victims of violent crime and another 9 million witnessed serious violence -- with nearly 2 million of these teenagers suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Child victims more at risk to become offenders. Children who are abused or neglected are far more likely than other children to become criminals themselves. These children are more than 50 percent more likely to be arrested while a juvenile, and nearly 40 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime when they become adults. They are also 33 percent more likely to become substance abusers.

What CEVI Will Do

Reform Laws Dealing with Child Victims and Witnesses. The Justice Department, in consultation with the states, will propose federal legislation that would (1) amend federal homicide statutes by making child abuse offenses predicates for felony murder and defining murder to include the death of a child resulting from a pattern of child abuse, and (2) provide a sentencing enhancement whenever a violent crime prohibited by federal law is committed in the presence of a child. The Department also will work with states to develop similar model legislation and to put in place additional reforms that will allow children to testify through closed circuit television, limit the number of interviews to which a child can be subjected, and allow children to use testimonial aids and have an adult present when testifying in court.

Improve Justice System Response. CEVI will improve the way participants in the justice system treat child victims and witnesses by providing the information and training necessary to prevent "secondary victimization." The Justice Department will use approximately $12 million in current funding to produce and distribute specialized training videos, best practice manuals, and other in-the-field user guides -- such as the guide on Forming a Multidisciplinary Team to Investigate Child Abuse released by the Justice Department today -- to law enforcement agents, prosecutors, victim and witness coordinators, and court personnel. Under this new initiative, the Justice Department also will work with state and local law enforcement to use Child Death Review Teams to investigate suspicious child fatalities; expand child victims' assistance programs; help create "Court Schools," which serve to acclimate children to the courtroom setting; and develop other similar programs.

Strengthen Prevention and Intervention. CEVI will assist states and localities to develop prevention and intervention initiatives focusing on children exposed to violence. These initiatives, often involving partnerships between law enforcement officers and other community members, will provide services and support to children and promote parent education. One example is the New Haven Child Development/Community Policing (CD-CP) program, a partnership between the New Haven Police Department and the Yale University Child Study Center that coordinates the work of law enforcement and mental health professionals in responding to children in violent situations. Today, the President will announce the availability of $10 million in "Safe Start" grants to help up to 12 more cities promote and build on proven initiatives like the New Haven CD-CP.

Increase Public Awareness. The Department of Justice will sponsor a National Summit on Children Exposed to Violence in May, with the Department of Health and Human Services, law enforcement organizations, child advocacy and media organizations, governors, county officials, mayors, legislators and prosecutors. The goal of the Summit will be to bring together experts in law enforcement, mental health, child development, domestic violence prevention, and related fields to increase public awareness of this issue and discuss additional ameliorative efforts.