Thank you, Governor, for that warm introduction. It is such a privilege to be here and I want to congratulate you and Judi for all you have done to make child abuse prevention one of the top priorities of your administration.
Thanks to your hard work and commitment, Kentucky has been one of the leading states in the effort to prevent domestic violence and child abuse and to treat the victims of these social problems when they do occur.
The last time Al was in Kentucky he noted how Paul and Judi's partnership on issues mirrored our own. While Judi and I each have distinct areas of interest apart from our husbands, frequently our interests influence theirs. This is certainly the case with child abuse prevention. Judi has long been known as one of Kentucky's most outspoken victim advocates and the Governor has adopted her commitment and made it one of his own.
Congratulations, also, to the outstanding individuals who are your honorees this evening as winners of the 1998 Champions for Children Award. I am so impressed by what all of you --from so many different walks of life -- have done to raise public awareness; involve community leaders, government agencies and private businesses; and provide programs for toddlers and teens alike to address this problem.
The health and well-being of our nation's children is something each of us here this evening cares deeply about. I think Hubert Humphrey put it best when he said: "Each child is an adventure into a better life -- an opportunity to change the old pattern and make it new."
Well, we had better change the old pattern before it's too late. Because too many children aren't being put first -- they're being left behind.
Consider that children are the poorest people in America, with one in five -- nearly 15 million --living below the poverty line.
Children are at special risk of homelessness, with more than 100,000 on the street, in shelters or sleeping in cars on any given night.
Children are the chief victims of the violence epidemic. Homicide is the leading cause of death among inner-city children.
And, children are the most vulnerable to abuse, with more than 2 million reported cases in 1996 alone. Almost half of the cases investigated found clear cut evidence of abuse -- an increase of18 per cent since 1990. And those are only the cases that we know about -- think of the thousands more whose stories go untold.
In Kentucky alone there were over 27,000 cases of substantiated child abuse and neglect.
The victims range in age from infants to teenagers and come from every level of society and every ethnic group. Particularly devastating, 77 per cent of those who maltreated children were parents, and an additional 11 per cent were other relatives of the victim.
Violence is like a disease that can infect individuals, families and communities. And just like a disease, violence spreads. We know that children who grow up suffering from abuse often become abusers themselves as they grow older.
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 liklihood 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.
What can we -- as parents, teachers, health-care professionals, government officials and concerned citizens -- do to reverse these staggering statistics?
First, we've got to get beyond the numbers and think about the individuals involved -- we must fight for every child. But we must do it intelligently and effectively.
We need to view our society holistically. You can't fix a systemic breakdown without simultaneously changing every interconnected problem that children face.
And everyone must be a part of the solution.
Government must think of children in every policy decision we make. I know that the Governor and Mrs. Patton are working hard to develop solutions at the state level through the Office of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Services and through the Governor's Council on Domestic Violence which Judi chairs. Many of these prevention programs are based on federal efforts that have proven effective.
For example--President Clinton fought for and signed what is known nationally as "Megan's Law", which makes community notification concerning registered sex offenders mandatory. I note that Kentucky was the first state in the country to have computerized its notification program so that victim notification is virtually automatic on a statewide basis.
We know through experience that domestic violence is one of the specific risk factors found to be associated with child abuse and neglect. The Violence Against Women Act, which is the cornerstone of this Administration's efforts to fight domestic violence, included $1.6 billion over five years to hire more prosecutors, police officers, and health and social services professionals. And it created an office at the Department of Justice dedicated to combating violence against women.
In 1996, Attorney General Janet Reno came here to announce a special grant for Kentucky to serve as a laboratory for implementing key portions of this Act.
I would also like to mention a few words about mental health -- because it is no secret that abused children are more likely to suffer from mental illness. 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.
As a society, we must work to erase the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding mental illness and work toward full parity on issues of health insurance so that children -- and adults -- can get the treatment they need.
We know it takes more than good government; it takes good people on the streets working every day to make a change. It takes the dedication, commitment and hard day-to-day work of people like tonight's award winners and people like all of you here to reach out to help those who are least able to help themselves.
Over the past six years, we have shown that we can reverse a decade of rising crime and break the cycle of violence. Community-based, collaborative efforts have proven to be the key to reaching out to those at risk and preventing abuse and neglect. If we continue to work with each of you, we can take responsibility for ourselves and our families, and we can keep the abuse rate going down -- block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, and city by city, all across America.
As a society, we must teach our children that they are valued, and in turn, teach them to value others. And, we must turn our national consensus on child abuse prevention into a national conscience that lets every person know that children are our most precious resources and that we all have a stake in caring for them.
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