On March 31, 2002, President Joseph R. Biden proclaimed April National Child Abuse Prevention Month and highlighted the importance of supporting families to prevention child maltreatment so that "every child can grow up in a safe environment and live a happy, prosperous life."
He also underscored the lingering effects of abuse and neglect. "Child abuse impacts the ability of students to succeed in school and often hinders their ability to forge health relationships with their loved ones and peers. It is associated with involvement in the juvenile justice system, especially for girls who have experienced sexual abuse," the President said.
Approximately 618,000 children in the United States suffered abuse and neglect in fiscal year (FY) 2020, according to the Department of Health and Human Services' Children's Bureau. Childhood trauma can have lifelong physical, psychological, and behavioral consequences. It can impact brain development, for example, and affect self-esteem, heightening a child's risk for substance use or unhealthy sexual activity. OJJDP supports children's advocacy centers, where trauma-informed teams seek to mitigate the toll that abuse can have on child victims and their families.
In 2021, OJJDP funded 939 children's advocacy centers in communities across the country; together, they served 386,191 children. The centers' multidisciplinary teams treat children while also coordinating the investigation and prosecution of the people who abused them. Teams include professionals from child protective and victim advocacy services, law enforcement and prosecution, and the medical and mental health fields. OJJDP also funds four regional children’s advocacy centers, which provide training and technical assistance to the local centers and offer specialized assistance to professionals and prosecutors working to address child abuse.
In FY 2021, OJJDP awarded approximately $43 million under its Victims of Child Abuse Act programs to provide effective services to children who suffer abuse and appropriate training for the professionals who treat them. The funds also support national accreditation for local children’s advocacy centers under the National Children's Alliance, a subgrant program that also helps military installations address child abuse. OJJDP's other national partners include the National Children’s Advocacy Center and Zero Abuse Project.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced children's advocacy centers at every level to adapt their work in order to continue providing services despite social distancing, community lockdowns, and other pandemic-related requirements. For example:
- When the pandemic prevented children's advocacy centers from providing in-person services, OJJDP's national partners helped local centers provide virtual trauma-focused therapy to children and families.
- In 2021, the regional children's advocacy centers collaborated to develop and deliver a virtual training curriculum for victim advocates. The 4-day training takes place over 2 weeks and meets National Children's Alliance accreditation requirements.
- The Midwest Regional Children’s Advocacy Center offers an online peer review program that has been particularly valuable during the pandemic. More than 1,000 professionals currently participate in the virtual platform, exchanging insights on ways centers can adjust to COVID protocols.
The regional children's advocacy centers—located in Philadelphia, PA; Huntsville, AL; Minneapolis, MN; and San Diego, CA—offer training and other resources for child abuse professionals. More information about OJJDP's national children's advocacy center partners can be found on the Office's Responding to Child Abuse webpage.