U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin had a serious message for her audience of moms, dads, care givers and other stake holders at the 1st annual Parent Summit held at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Northwest Washington: protecting children from the effects of violence should be everyone’s priority.
Benjamin was the keynote speaker at the event, held April 25 and sponsored by the DC Children’s Trust Fund. Themed “Changing the Culture of Violence Against Children,” the five-hour summit drew more than 100 participant s who heard presentations from experts ranging from Benjamin, who discussed the effects of violence on children and families; to Assistant Chief Diane Grooms of the D.C. police department, who discussed trends police are seeing in young people; to former NFL player Keion Carpenter, who discussed the need to re-invent the “village” concept to protect children.
Benjamin shared with the audience some of the data that had been produced by her office in recent years. According to the statistics, homicide is the leading cause of death for African American youths aged 10 to 24 and the second leading cause for youth aged 15 to 24 in general. Violence against women costs $5.8 billion annually when expenses resulting from medical care, law enforcement involvement and other costs are factored in, she said.
“Violence-free living” results from taking a proactive approach to making sure children are safe from battering, abuse and neglect and homicide, she said. “More education in society has a positive impact on life expectancy and resistance to violence,” Benjamin said.
Organizers said the goal of the event was to establish an action plan for parents and families.
“We wanted to convene a broad cross-section of parents, service providers and policymakers to change the culture of violence in the District of Columbia, and beyond the borders of the District,” said Linda Perkins, chair of the Parent Summit.
The diverse group of participants included representatives from organizations such as Concerned Black Men, Black Women for Positive Change, Sasha Bruce Youthwork, Adventist Hospital and the Shaw Family Support Collaborative.
Among other topics discussed were bullying, child abuse and neglect, child pornography and gang violence. Some parents were concerned that spanking for purposes of discipline is now considered a negative and expressed concern that the rights of parents have been violated by laws that prohibit physical discipline of errant children.
Jacqueline Pearl, a mother who participates in parental training programs sponsored by Concerned Black Men, suggested establishing what she called family development centers—neutral zones where fathers and mothers could learn parenting skills and how to work together in the best interests of their children. James Matthews, a member of Concerned Black Men, said such centers should be operated collaboratively between institutions of faith and community-based organizations.
Grooms provided statistics on some issues of concern to police. She said 990 juvenile arrests had been made in the District since the beginning of the year and 3,776 school-age youth had been picked up for truancy since school started. She said reasons for habitual truancy include neglect at home, lack of food and nutrition and family violence. She also told the audience that the entire community needs to band together to stop the sale of “Scooby Snacks” and other synthetic marijuana blends marketed to children.
Carpenter recalled his own experience as the son of a single mother. He said he did not meet his own father until he was 21, but credited three male coaches for serving as his role models and mentors. Carpenter commutes from Atlanta to Baltimore monthly to work with at-risk youth.