Good morning and welcome to the National Summit on the Intersection of Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment. I want to thank you for attending this very important conference. Domestic violence, in particular children exposed to domestic violence, is an issue that I have worked on for much of my career in public service.
As a judge at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia I saw first hand the suffering and long-term trauma experienced by children exposed to violence. As the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, I created the first Domestic Violence Unit in the office’s history. As Deputy Attorney General during the President Clinton Administration, I helped to launch the U.S. Department of Justice’s Children Exposed to Violence Initiative, as well as the Safe Start Initiative. And now, as Attorney General, I am committed to reinvigorating our work on this very important issue.
The Office on Violence Against Women, in partnership with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the Family Violence Prevention Fund has planned this meeting to continue a conversation that began almost a decade ago, at the first National Summit held here in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. That meeting brought together domestic violence advocates, child abuse workers and judges to address the critical need for coordinated services to family members victimized by both domestic violence and child abuse.
This summit brings together a broader cross-discipline of professionals who do not commonly work together: domestic violence and child advocates, judges and other court personnel, attorneys, child welfare workers, guardian ad litem, mental health workers, researchers, and policy makers. While you may not always work in concert on this issue, you share a vision for safe and healthy families.
I want to recognize the tremendous work that has continued over the past decade but for the next two days, I ask that you work together to identify what you have learned and to help us build an agenda for the future.
As you are gathered here in this beautiful location, I hope that you will forge new alliances and a collective leadership that will help identify solutions that will have a lasting impact on the lives of mothers and children traumatized by family violence. I ask that you consider ways the Department of Justice can renew and strengthen its efforts to address this problem. We want to draw upon lessons gleaned from your work in communities throughout the country. We also want to know what has been left undone.
Some of the topics that you will address may be more challenging than others. I hope you will especially discuss the most difficult issues I know many of you confront in your work:
- Why are mothers who are the victims of domestic violence losing custody of their children to the courts and to the child protection system?
- Why are children of color over-represented in the child protection system?
- Do children need a relationship with their fathers even when their fathers have been abusive to them and their mothers in the past? If so, what does that relationship look like?
I ask that you explore all of these things while always remembering that the needs of children who are exposed to violence are inextricably linked to the needs of mothers who are the victims of domestic violence.
As a father of one son and two daughters, I recognize the importance of healthy relationships and that all of us need to be role models and mentors for our children so that they have the best chance of living in communities and families free from violence.
I want to thank you for your ongoing commitment to addressing child maltreatment and domestic violence. I fully support your work on behalf of mothers and children who are the victims of these crimes. The Department of Justice supports your work. And this Administration supports your work.
I am looking forward to hearing about the ideas that surface at this meeting and to learning about how we can work together more effectively to end this cycle of violence. Thank you, and have a great summit.