Attorney General Announces $5.5-Million Initiative To Address Children's Exposure to Violence
Logo for Defending Childhood Initiative

A recent OJJDP-funded study, the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), concluded that a majority of children in the United States have been exposed to violence, crime, or abuse in their homes, schools, and communities. Children's exposure to violence, whether as victims or witnesses, is often associated with long-term physical, psychological, and emotional harm. Children exposed to violence are also at a higher risk of engaging in criminal behavior later in life and becoming part of a cycle of violence.

To address this serious issue, Attorney General Eric Holder on September 23, 2010, announced Defending Childhood, a new $5.5-million initiative which aims to prevent exposure to violence, mitigate the negative effects experienced by children exposed to violence, and develop knowledge about and spread awareness of this issue. The initiative fosters a comprehensive, coordinated, and collaborative approach to developing evidence-based practices. It will involve public and private partners and leverage federal resources and funding within the Department of Justice (DOJ) and throughout the government. President Obama's budget request for 2011 proposes increasing funding for the initiative to $37 million.

"For me, the issue of children's exposure to violence has been both a personal and professional concern for decades. As our nation's Attorney General and as a parent, it remains a top priority," said Attorney General Holder.

As Deputy Attorney General in 1999, Mr. Holder launched OJJDP's Safe Start initiative to broaden knowledge about and promote community investment in evidence-based strategies for reducing the impact of children's exposure to violence. The initiative's Safe Start Center serves as a national resource for information and training to communities implementing these strategies.

A key component of the Defending Childhood initiative is a two-phase, multiyear demonstration program. Phase I includes planning grants for eight demonstration sites announced September 23, 2010. In phase II, up to four communities will be selected from the initial eight to receive funding for further implementation of their plans. This program supports the development of comprehensive community-based strategies to prevent and reduce the impact of children's exposure to violence in their homes, schools, and communities.

The eight demonstration sites are:

  • City of Boston, MA ($160,000)
  • City of Portland, ME ($160,000)
  • Chippewa Cree Tribe, Montana ($153,210)
  • City of Grand Forks, ND ($159,967)
  • Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners, Ohio ($157,873)
  • Multnomah County Department of Human Services, Oregon ($159,349)
  • Rosebud Sioux Tribe, South Dakota ($159,534)
  • Shelby County, Tennessee ($159,099).

The grantees will work in collaboration with other local organizations, including victim service providers, tribal nonprofit organizations, and community-based organizations with a documented history of effectiveness concerning children exposed to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

The DOJ funding will help grantees to:

  • Improve the identification, screening, assessment, and referral of children and their families to appropriate programs and services.
  • Increase access to and use of quality programs and services.
  • Develop new programs and services where gaps exist.

In addition to the demonstration program grants, DOJ is committing additional funding for research, evaluation, public awareness, and partnerships related to the initiative. The other awards include:

  • Action Partnerships for Professional Membership and Professional Organizations Responding to Children Exposed to and Victimized by Violence ($1,498,932).
  • Evaluation of the Attorney General's Children Exposed to Violence Demonstration Program: Phase I ($500,000).
  • Public Awareness and Outreach for Victims in Underserved Communities ($995,089).
  • Research and Evaluation on Children Exposed to Family Violence ($1,244,869).

In addition to OJJDP, the DOJ offices involved in the Defending Childhood initiative are the Office of Justice Programs' Office for Victims of Crime, the National Institute of Justice, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking; the Office on Violence Against Women; and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. In April 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education joined the initiative as partners. Other federal agencies will be invited to join the initiative in the coming months.

What We Know About Children's Exposure to Violence

In interviews conducted between January and May 2008, by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center for the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, researchers found that in the past year—

  • Sixty percent of American children were exposed to violence, crime, or abuse in their homes, schools, and communities.
  • Almost 40 percent were direct victims of 2 or more violent acts, and 1 in 10 were victims of violence 5 or more times.
  • Almost 15 percent of children experienced an assault with a weapon and were injured as a result.
  • One in ten suffered some form of child maltreatment.
  • One in four were victims of robbery, vandalism, or theft.
  • One in sixteen were victimized sexually.
  • One in four witnessed a violent act.
  • Almost 1 in 10 saw one family member assault another family member.


Detailed information about grants awarded in each of the above categories is available at the Defending Childhood initiative's Web site. To learn more about the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, go to the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center Web site. Also see OJJDP's bulletin, Children's Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey.