Thank you Mrs. Glendening. Let me say, on behalf of everyone here, how very much we appreciate your efforts to break the cycle of violence for Maryland's families. The Youth Initiative you have helped develop for Prince George's County is one that can serve as a model for the state of Maryland as well as our nation. I firmly share your belief that community solutions, coupled with public/private partnerships are one of the best ways we can maximize resources and build strong safety nets that ensure that no child slips through the cracks. Thank you for your efforts in spearheading this exciting initiative.
I would also like to acknowledge Jerry Brock, the Vice Chair of the Maryland Youth Initiative 2000 for his work and efforts to get this conference launched statewide.
Let me start by saying that it's not easy being a parent in any generation, but it does seem to be especially challenging for today's generation of parents. Our lives have changed so much from the days when the norm included two-parent households, extended families, only one parent in the workplace, and strong community and religious ties.
At that same time, pressures on children have increased too. The pressure of growing up too quickly. Pressure from peers to take part in risky behaviors. The pressure and fear that grows from the violence that is a part of our daily headlines and for some, a part of their daily lives.
Violence is a disease that can infect individuals, families and communities. And like a disease, violence spreads. We know that children who grow up suffering from abuse often become abusers themselves as they grow older. We also know that children who are exposed frequently to violence, even violence found in the media and entertainment, become inured and desensitized to violence -- more likely to act out violently themselves. Experts agree that violence is a learned behavior -- it can be taught, reinforced and modeled to children by parents, family members, peers and other role models.
The cycle of violence can be far-reaching. It can impact many areas of our children's lives, from their ability to learn to their likelihood to take part in risky behaviors. Inadequate education, teenage pregnancy, abuse and neglect, joblessness, unemployment, poverty, alcohol and substance abuse -- the cycle grows and the lives of every member of the family can be affected.
In just the past few weeks, our news has been filled with shocking stories of crimes committed by and against children that are unthinkable and unconscionable. A young boy murders his parents and then goes on a shooting spree at school; two young boys set off a false fire alarm and then fire round after round into the students as they are trapped outside the school exits.
How did this come to pass? In the State of Maryland alone, the statistics are frightening:
Seven out of 10 families reported chronic family conflict;
More than half of Maryland families reported one or more types of domestic violence, child abuse or neglect;
64% of families experienced emotional difficulties such as depression and anxiety.
Understand too that the typical child watches 25,000 hours of television before his or her 18th birthday. There, they will witness nearly a quarter of a million violent acts, including 16,000 murders, by the time they graduate high school.
Between the violence they face in their homes, their entertainment, their schools and their streets, is it a wonder that they have become so desensitized to violence?
It is imperative to work together to break this frightening cycle. We must find every way possible to give our children good role models, mentors, and a caring community. And that is just what the Maryland Youth Initiative 2000 is about. It is a true collaborative effort that brings together the entire community -- individuals, grassroots organizations, businesses, non-profits, congregations and government -- to help stop the cycle of violence and enhance the quality of life for our children, youth and families.
Over the past five years, we have seen community programs make a difference and we have shown that we can reverse a decade of rising crime and break this cycle. Across our nation, community-based, collaborative efforts have proven to be the key to early crime prevention. If we continue to work with each of you, we can take responsibility for ourselves and our families, and we can keep the crime rate going down -- block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, and city by city, all across America.
As many of you know, there is cause for celebration. The FBI's most recent crime statistics for the nation show that, overall crime is down for the fifth year in a row, with the biggest reductions coming in violent crime and murders. Even the arrest rate for violent juveniles, which had skyrocketed for seven years, has now gone down for two years in a row. The drop in the murder rate was so significant, in fact, that projected life expectancies have been raised to a new high of 76.
Government can play an important role. On a national level, policies like the Brady Bill which keeps guns out of the hands of violent criminals and the Crime Bill, which put more police officers on the street, help. Other important initiatives have included tripling the funding for battered women's shelters; and providing $275 million in state grants to bolster local law enforcement, prosecution and victims' services.
The Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act has reduced violence and drug abuse in our schools by investing in school security, drug prevention programs, counseling and has promoted a "zero tolerance" gun policy in our nation's schools.
And just as importantly, coordination has taken place across federal agencies to help communities in prevention efforts. The Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development are collaborating to attack problems in and around public housing; and the Department of Agriculture has developed its 4H program to provide after-school programs in housing projects.
And, the Administration is asking Congress to fund broader child care initiatives, including more after school care, to provide children a safe haven during the hours when they are most at risk.
We know it takes more than good government; it takes good people on the streets working every day to make a change.
And the Maryland Youth Initiative 2000 is structured to teach communities throughout the state how to form partnerships across agencies and identify already existing programs and initiatives that work, so that resources are shared rather than duplicated.
The message of the Maryland Youth Initiative 2000 is clear: early investment in our nation's youth leads to less crime down the road.
And, it is up to parents to teach children right from wrong at a very early age -- before the age of five even. If we wait until they are teens, we are too late. Discussing values is vitally important for our children -- to show we care and to show that human beings have a responsibility to themselves and to each other.
I would also like to mention a few words about mental health -- an area of concern that Frances Glendening and I share. Children are the least likely to receive treatment for mental disorders, with only 20 percent of those with problems getting care -- and in many cases, inappropriate care. That leaves up to 11 million children with untreated mental illness. Children also have the greatest risk of suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among adolescents. Parents must have frank and open conversations with children, even young children, about depression and other issues. Clinical depression is a treatable disease -- and as a society, we must continue to work to erase the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding depression and mental illness.
I am convinced that if all of us -- parents, schools and communities -- create and innovate and make the commitment to work together, to re-connect home and school, to continue to break the cycle of violence, our children will have the confidence, love and caring they will need to grow, thrive and succeed as happy adults, parents, and leaders in the 21st century.
Thank you to each and every one of you here today for your work in the trenches to make a difference in the lives of all people.
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