January | February 2014

Message From the Administrator

Hello, I’m Bob Listenbee, Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

It seems fitting that—at the beginning of this new year—the Office is reaching out to the field in a new way—through regular video messages from me. It is my hope that this will be a more personal and direct way to keep you updated on my thoughts and priorities—as well as recent developments and plans ahead at our Office.

I have a great deal to share with you.

As many of you know, January was National Mentoring Month. A consistent relationship with one caring adult can make a world of difference in a child’s self-esteem, relationships with parents and peers, and performance in school. It also reduces the likelihood of substance abuse and violent behavior. These positive outcomes decrease the risk of children entering the juvenile justice system.

In January, I participated in a panel discussion at the National Mentoring Summit on the many risk factors that predispose children to enter the system, and how to mitigate these risk factors.

We know that harsh and exclusionary discipline practices in schools send children needlessly into our juvenile justice system.

Through the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, our Office and the U.S. Department of Justice are collaborating closely with the Department of Education and private and philanthropic partners on many different fronts to ensure that discipline policies and practices are more productive, effective, and fair to students.

One issue we are addressing is the disproportionate out-of-school suspension and expulsion of African American children and children who qualify for special education services.

In January, the Justice and Education Departments issued joint civil rights guidance to states and counties to help public schools better understand and meet their obligations under the Civil Rights Act, and to avoid discrimination in discipline policies.

But all of us know that there are many, many other factors that push children into the juvenile justice system who don’t belong there.

To cite just one example, the science has now shown that regular exposure to violence can derail brain function in the developing child or adolescent, and the after effects—inability to concentrate, difficulties in school, difficulty negotiating conflict, difficulty in controlling impulses, a higher risk for depression and substance abuse—all of these are like a tidal wave of negative consequences that put children at higher risk of antisocial behavior.

The vast majority of children in our juvenile justice system have a previous history of exposure to violence and trauma.

Children who have been exposed to violence and trauma can heal and thrive—if we identify them early and give them specialized services, evidence-based treatment, and proper care and support. We need to intervene early, before they reach the doorstep of the juvenile justice system.

If this public health problem is not addressed, it almost certainly becomes a public safety problem.

That’s why the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is collaborating on a number of projects with the Administration for Children and Families, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and why I felt it was so important to participate just a few days ago in a CDC Grand Rounds public health session on preventing youth violence.

It’s also why the Attorney General launched the Defending Childhood Initiative in 2010 and appointed a Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence to study this problem. As co-chair of that task force, I learned that tribal children have exceptional unmet needs for services and support to prevent and respond to violence.

In January, our Office organized the second of four public hearings across the nation by an advisory committee of experts to gather information on children’s exposure to violence in Indian country, and the task force is scheduled to make recommendations to the Attorney General in the fall.

These are just a few highlights of our work in January and February 2014.

Thank you for listening.

I look forward to keeping in touch this way on a regular basis in the months and years ahead.