OJJDP National Conference for Children's Justice and Safety: Unite, Build, Lead

National Conference logo
Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden; Attorney General Eric Holder; Deputy Attorney General James Cole; Deputy Associate Attorney General Karol Mason; General Raymond T. Odierno, Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army; and Congressmen Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) were among the many dignitaries who attended OJJDP's National Conference on October 12–14, 2011.

Photo of attendees at National Conference
OJJDP's National Conference for Children's Justice and Safety featured 7 plenaries, 330 speakers, and more than 65 workshops and sessions.
The conference drew more than 2,300 public officials, tribal representatives, juvenile justice practitioners, policymakers, law enforcement professionals, child advocates, educators, and researchers to address key issues in the juvenile justice field. The event featured 7 plenaries, 330 speakers, and more than 65 workshops and sessions. This event for children's justice and safety was the first national conference OJJDP has held since 2006.

Photo of South Shore Drill Team performing at the National Conference
Youth participation in the conference included two performances by Chicago's South Shore Drill Team. Approximately 85 percent of team members come from inner-city neighborhoods where they are at risk for gang and drug activity. In addition to training in precision drilling, the South Shore Drill Team offers youth educational support and employment training.
The event featured special tracks on children's exposure to violence, anti-gang strategies, child protection and advocacy, truancy and dropping out, at-risk and delinquent girls, trends in tribal youth policy, evidence-based practices, and reforming the treatment of juveniles in custody, among other topics.

Youth participated in breakout sessions on family engagement during youth custody, anti-gang strategies, and youth violence prevention; peer-to-peer roundtable discussions; and a listening session with federal leadership.

The conference also featured songs by the choir of the Benjamin Orr School in Washington, DC; the presentation of colors by the Junior ROTC Honor Guard from Crossland High School in Temple Hills, MD; and two performances by Chicago's South Shore Drill Team.

OJJDP-Defense Department Mentoring Partnership

Photo of Dr. Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States
In highlighting the $20 million mentoring partnership between the U.S. Departments of Justice and Defense, Dr. Jill Biden called on all Americans to contribute time and resources to support military families.
In her remarks in a session entitled "Children's Justice and Safety: A New Partnership To Support Military Families" on October 14, Dr. Biden highlighted the recent announcement of a joint partnership between the U.S. Departments of Justice and Defense to award $20 million to nine organizations to support mentoring programs and services for youth with a parent in the military. Approximately $17 million of the funding will be given to Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the National 4-H Council. More than $3 million in additional grants have been awarded to multistate mentoring initiatives, including the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, KidsPeace, and others.

"As a teacher and a military mom and grandmother, I have seen firsthand what a big difference a great mentor can make in the lives of our nation's military children," said Dr. Biden. "These mentors and so many other individuals and groups across this country are showing all Americans that there are countless ways to help our military families—some large and many small, but all important."

Dr. Biden was joined on the podium by Attorney General Holder; Army Chief of Staff Odierno; Laurie O. Robinson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs; and military families and mentors from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington.

Photo of Attorney General Eric Holder
In his remarks at the National Conference, Attorney General Eric Holder underscored the importance of helping children of military service members develop resiliency skills and of promoting the stability of military families.
Attorney General Holder said the mentoring programs will help children of military service members develop resiliency skills, build healthy lifestyles, acquire career training, and connect with other military families. "Above all," he added, "they will promote stability, discourage youth violence, and help to support and strengthen the . . . families that have given and sacrificed so much to keep this country safe."

The Attorney General also emphasized a range of other issues on which the Justice Department places a high priority, including ensuring that the education system is a doorway of opportunity and not a point of entry to the criminal justice system; expanding the juvenile justice field's knowledge base and investing in research that can help law enforcement identify crime hot spots and target resources more efficiently; and working to reintegrate juvenile offenders more effectively into their communities.

Following are descriptions of other conference highlights:

Children's Exposure to Violence

According to the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, most children and adolescents in this country are exposed to violence in their daily lives. More than 60 percent of the youth surveyed were exposed to violence, crime, or abuse within the past year. To address this serious problem, in 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder launched Defending Childhood, an initiative that aims to prevent children's exposure to violence, mitigate the negative impact of children's exposure to violence when it does occur, and develop knowledge and spread awareness about children's exposure to violence.

Logo of Defending ChildhoodAt OJJDP's National Conference, Deputy Associate Attorney General Mason announced the creation of a new National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The task force is composed of 14 leading experts from diverse fields and perspectives, including practitioners, child and family advocates, academic experts, and licensed clinicians. Following four public hearings to be held around the country, the task force will issue a report to the Attorney General that will serve as a blueprint for addressing children's exposure to violence across the United States.

Photo of Joe Torre, co-chairman of the Attorney General's National Task Force on Children Exposed to 					     Violence
Speaking at the National Conference about his new role as co-chairman of the Attorney General's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, Joe Torre said, "We'll continue to make strides to address this terrible public health issue, and when it's all said and done, we'll save a lot of lives."
The task force will be co-chaired by Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations and Chairman of the Board of the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, an organization that educates students, parents, and teachers about the effects of domestic violence. Mr. Torre, who spoke at a conference working luncheon, described his own experiences growing up in a violent household.

"I carried scars into my adult life," said Torre. "This is not just a women's issue. . . . Domestic violence is a public health issue. We need to talk about it. We need to find solutions. . . . And awareness is the biggest deterrence."

The conference also included the following Defending Childhood workshops:

  • Six Communities Respond to Children's Exposure to Violence described the collaborative planning process employed by Defending Childhood demonstration sites and their vision for addressing children's exposure to violence in their jurisdictions.
  • Prevention and Intervention: Overcoming the Trauma of Children's Exposure to Violence discussed the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation and its school-based programming initiative, Margaret's Place.
  • What Can Research Teach Us About the Impact of Children's Exposure to Violence? reviewed latest research and discussed evidence-based prevention and intervention practices.

At the conference, Deputy Associate Attorney General Mason announced the release of Children's Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence and Other Family Violence; Polyvictimization: Children's Exposure to Multiple Types of Violence, Crime, and Abuse; and the fact sheet, Questions and Answers About the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence.

Youth Violence/Gangs

Photo National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention
Maria Pineda Cruz (l.) and Debbie Aguilar, who attended the conference as part of a group of 30 youth and families sponsored by Casey Family Programs, participated in the "National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention" and workshops related to family and youth engagement. Both women have both lost sons to gun violence in their city (Salinas, CA) and are working with the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention to create safer communities in Salinas and throughout the country.
In a workshop on October 12, panelists discussed how each of the six cities participating in the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention—Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Salinas, CA, and San Jose, CA—created comprehensive data-driven and multidisciplinary efforts to address their unique youth violence issues. The forum, launched at the direction President Barack Obama, allows participating localities to share challenges and promising strategies with each other and to explore how federal agencies can better support local efforts. Each city has developed strategies to reduce violence, improve opportunities for youth, and encourage innovation at the local and federal levels.

Photo of Father Gregory Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries
In remarks offered at a plenary session on October 13, Father Gregory Boyle, S.J. said that the goal of Homeboy Industries, the nation's largest gang intervention and reentry program, is not only to deliver services, but to develop a sense of "kinship" and "mutuality." Former gang rivals work side by side in Homeboy Industries' bakery and other businesses.
Father Gregory Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries, the nation's largest gang-intervention and reentry program, described in a plenary session on October 13 how the program helps at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to change the course of their lives through a range of programs including counseling, education, substance abuse and addiction assistance, job training, and job placement.

"There has never been a hopeful kid who joins a gang," Father Boyle said. "No one is seeking something when joining a gang, but rather they are fleeing something."

Located in Los Angeles, Homeboy Industries focuses on providing positive alternatives and a more hopeful future for at-risk and gang-involved youth. After job-readiness training, youth can work in Homeboy Industries' bakery and farmers' markets, as well as the program's solar panel installation, silkscreen, restaurant, and catering businesses.

Anti-gang strategies were discussed at numerous conference workshops, including:

  • Overview and History of Gang Prevention and Intervention Programs in which presenters summarized the current state of youth gangs in the United States, what the research reveals about youth gang prevention and intervention programs, and risk factors for gang membership and involvement.
  • Creating a School and/or Community-Based Gang Prevention and Intervention Program in which presenters discussed the key components of two successful gang prevention programs—Gang Resistance Education And Training, also known as G.R.E.A.T., and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Gang Prevention Through Targeted Outreach.
  • Comprehensive Anti-Gang Strategies in which presenters outlined OJJDP's Comprehensive-Anti Gang Strategies and offered attendees information about how to access resources to assist their communities in addressing specific youth violence/gang issues.

Child Protection and Advocacy

In welcoming remarks on October 12, Deputy Attorney General James Cole reviewed the progress that has been made in protecting children from abduction, abuse, and exploitation. He highlighted the contributions of AMBER Alert, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program, and the partnership between the Missing-Child Clearinghouse Program and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Photo of Elizabeth Smart, President of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation
Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted from her Salt Lake City home in June 2002 and recovered 9 months later, stressed the importance of empowering children through activity-based programs that offer concrete skills for resisting a would-be abductor and keeping them safe.
Elizabeth Smart, President of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, joined Ernie Allen, NCMEC's President and CEO, to speak about the importance of keeping public attention focused on the issue of missing and exploited children at a time of budget constraints. Ms. Smart, who was abducted from her home in Salt Lake City, UT, in June 2002 and recovered 9 months later, highlighted the work of radKIDS, an organization that offers family-centered safety education programs that emphasize essential decisionmaking skills as well as physical resistance options to escape violence.

"There are 250,000 radKIDS today," said Ms. Smart. "I can't go back in time and change my past, but I can say it would have made a difference to me."

The luncheon keynote speech, presented by Dr. Sharon Cooper, CEO of Developmental and Forensic Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill School of Medicine, focused on the sexualization of children by the mass media, entertainment, and fashion. Dr. Cooper warned that such images, which often include violent themes, "promote the objectification of children" and "normalize sexual harm" to young people.

Many sessions throughout the conference touched on strategies for protecting and advocating for children, including the following workshops:

  • Strategies for Effective Investigation and Prosecution of Child Abuse Cases: An Overview of National Resources described the mission and vision of the OJJDP-supported National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse, the latest strategies in the prosecution of child abuse, and available national resources, including training and technical assistance.
  • Best Practices for Supporting Children in Juvenile and Family Courts provided an overview of several important initiatives designed to support children in juvenile and family courts, including the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges' Victims Act Model Courts Project and Delinquency Model Courts Project.
  • Responding to the Legal Needs of Children discussed the Attorney General's Access to Justice initiative and how it applies to juvenile justice. Presenters highlighted an array of resources available to juvenile defenders and other juvenile justice professionals to ensure that youth's rights are protected at all contact points in the justice system.

Truancy and Dropping Out

In a workshop entitled "Creating Conditions for Learning: Stopping School Dropout and Improving Graduation Rates," Ken Seeley, President of the National Center for School Engagement, joined Jonathan Cohen, Ph.D., President of the National School Climate Center to discuss the most current research and practices regarding school engagement and creating learning conditions that promote youth staying in school.

Dr. Seeley described OJJDP-funded research by the National Center for School Engagement that found that a caring school community, in which individual students are meaningfully challenged and supported by the adults around them, can serve as a powerful antidote to the process by which victimization distances students from learning and leads to truancy, academic failure, and other problems.

Other conference workshops on the topic of truancy and dropping out included:

  • Successful School Engagement and Reengagement Strategies. Presenters outlined evidence-based practices that promote school attendance, attachment, and achievement.
  • Truancy Reduction and Prevention: Models for Change Project. Attendees learned about the Models for Change initiative in the state of Washington and the emerging evidence-based practices from the project's four participating counties.

At-Risk and Delinquent Girls

The large number of girls in the juvenile justice system and the high rates of exposure to violence among these girls pose special challenges and obligations for juvenile justice facilities and programs. Research and experience highlight the link between the experience of trauma, the lack of appropriate treatment, and behaviors that lead to involvement in the justice system. In a mini-plenary on the opening day of the conference entitled "The Real Deal: Girls and Trauma," panelists shared the latest research as well as recommendations for meeting the needs of girls who have been exposed to trauma in their lives.

The conference also included the following workshops:

  • The Legal Lives of Girls provided practical information specific to policies, practices, and processes that impact girls throughout the justice system—from arrest to commitment; presenters offered practical strategies for helping girls and families navigate the legal system.
  • The Invisible Population: Mothers in the Juvenile Justice System identified and discussed the specific needs of young mothers under correctional supervision; presenters shared recommendations for effective responses to addressing these needs.

Trends in Tribal Youth Policy

Photo of panel discussion on Tribal Law and Order Act
In a workshop on October 12, panelists discussed the impact of the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) on youth in Indian country. President Barack Obama signed TLOA into law in July 2010. Panelists are (from l. to r.) Walter Lamar, Lamar Associates; Chris Chaney, Office of Tribal Justice, Bureau of Indian Affairs; and Brendan Johnson, U.S. Attorney, District of South Dakota. The moderator for the panel discussion (shown speaking at the lectern) was Laura Ansera, OJJDP's Tribal Youth Program Coordinator.
Many American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities lack comprehensive programs to address juvenile delinquency, violence, and other serious problems such as substance abuse and high truancy and dropout rates. Three workshops focused on recent efforts to assist the field in better understanding the needs of tribal youth and communities and developing strategies that work most effectively to address those needs:

  • What Data and Research Can—and Can't—Tell Us About Tribal Youth Delinquency and Victimization. Panelists described a forthcoming OJJDP report summarizing statistics related to risk and protective factors as well as offending and victimization of AI/AN youth. They also discussed a joint OJJDP—Bureau of Justice Statistics study examining tribal youth in the federal justice system and identified ongoing gaps in knowledge and how to address them.
  • Tribal Law and Order Act: How Does It Impact Youth in Indian Country? Presenters highlighted key elements and plans for implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Act's anticipated effect on the lives of tribal youth.
  • Strength-Based Healing Programs for Native Girls. Panelists provided an overview of Shattered Hearts, a report that analyzes the commercial sexual exploitation of American Indian women and girls in Minnesota. They also discussed strength-based programs that empower women and girls to advocate for justice and equity.

Evidence-Based Practices

Logo of Crime SolutionsFor years, policymakers and practitioners have struggled with how to implement the most effective prevention and treatment programs to reduce delinquency and recidivism rates and to improve outcomes for youth. Workshops and presentations throughout the conference focused on translating the extensive research available about the effectiveness of juvenile justice programs into improved everyday juvenile justice practice. Following are a few examples the sessions offered:

  • Exploring the Benefits, Barriers, and Realities of Researcher-Practitioner Collaboration examined successful researcher-practitioner partnerships and how they can benefit both research and practice. Current OJJDP grantees shared their perspectives on researcher-practitioner collaborations and the lessons they have learned from current projects in children's exposure to violence and trauma in American Indian children.
  • Taking an Evidence-Based Approach to Everyday Juvenile Justice Practice discussed a new, comprehensive approach to evidence-based practice that is currently embedded within the OJJDP Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders. The approach focuses efforts on identifying a sufficient array of programs available, matching youth to appropriate services based on risk and need, and evaluating services to determine if they achieve their anticipated outcomes.
  • Following the Evolution: What Works, the Model Programs Guide, and CrimeSolutions.gov among other topics, discussed OJJDP's Model Programs Guide—one of the first comprehensive resources to identify evidence-based programs in juvenile justice and delinquency prevention—and the Office of Justice Programs' recently launched CrimeSolutions.gov, which offers an online information clearinghouse on program effectiveness across the spectrum of juvenile and adult criminal justice and victims' programs.

Reforming the Treatment of Juveniles in Custody

Photo of youth participants in panel, Effective Youth Engagement and Best Practices for Sustaining Youth Leadership
Photo courtesy of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

In a forum entitled "Effective Youth Engagement and Best Practices for Sustaining Youth Leadership," youth leaders with first-hand experience in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems shared their perspectives about ways to foster youth leadership and actively support youth engagement and partnership. Shown above (from l. to r.) are Brandon MacMillian (Washington, DC); Drew Peterman (Boise, ID); and Tawana Burks (Detroit, MI).

In a mini-plenary on October 13 entitled "Family Voices in Juvenile Justice," parents of youth in custody shared their experiences with their children's involvement in the juvenile justice system, and recommended ideas for change. They discussed how to create community dialog, system reform, and successful family engagement.

The following workshops also addressed the need to reform the treatment of juveniles in custody:

  • Detention Reform: A Platform for Juvenile Justice System Transformation explored some of the many ways in which the juvenile justice system has been transformed through detention reform efforts. Panelists described innovative programming, new ways of engaging youth and parents, workforce development, and leadership initiatives, among other topics.
  • National Center for Youth in Custody explained the mission of OJJDP's National Center for Youth in Custody and its services, which include providing those involved in youth-custody services with tools to improve organizational culture; supporting and enhancing implementation of the core requirements of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, as amended; and promoting family and community engagement in all aspects of youth custody. The center was officially launched at the OJJDP conference.
  • Ensuring Public Safety Through Successful Reentry focused on strategies for and barriers to the successful reentry of juvenile offenders as they transition to adulthood. Presenters emphasized the need for a strengths-based approach that engages youth and their families, interventions based on adolescent development, cognitive and behavioral methodologies, and education and employment.


The conference program is available online. To request copies of PowerPoint presentations for the OJJDP National Conference on October 12–14, as well as for the preconference grantee trainings and learning labs on October 10–11, visit the National Training and Technical Assistance Center Web site.