U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder celebrated the Annie E. Casey Foundation as “a champion for disadvantaged young people from coast to coast” that has broken barriers, strengthened families and contributed to improvements in juvenile justice, in a stirring Oct. 1 speech during the Foundation’s KIDS COUNT conference in Baltimore.
“As we speak, through your extraordinarily active and generous grant making — to worthy organizations in all 50 states — you’re providing leaders on the ground with vital opportunities to learn, to grow and to make positive changes in the communities they know so well and serve so faithfully,” Holder said. “This is bold, important and, in many cases, life-changing work.”
“We have been proud to stand alongside, and work closely with, you and your partners around the country to make the difference that America’s young people deserve,” he added. “And we understand, like everyone in this crowd, that this isn’t an abstract discussion. The stakes are real — and they could hardly be higher.”
While lauding the progress the Foundation has made in juvenile justice reform, often in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Holder said a “developmentally informed” approach is needed to spur additional reforms and create a racially equitable system.
“In far too many neighborhoods, children of all ages — and particularly children of color — walk a well-worn path from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse,” he said. “According to data collected by the Department of Education, last year, students of color were subjected to suspensions and expulsions at a rate three times higher than their white peers. They were far more likely to face referral to law enforcement, or even arrest.”
Holder called for an expanded partnership to enlist additional philanthropies, business leaders, mayors, law enforcement officers, educators and young people around a unifying vision and “framework to drive, and to amplify, the work of local leaders.”
His speech energized the KIDS COUNT conference, which brought together advocates from 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to share best practices in child advocacy. The conference, held Sept. 30-Oct. 2, celebrated KIDS COUNT’s 25 years of contributing reliable data that have improved decision making on issues affecting children, while acknowledging much more change is required to give all kids the opportunity to succeed.
In his introductory remarks, Casey President and CEO Patrick McCarthy celebrated the KIDS COUNT milestone and policy changes over the years, called for sustained attention to race equity in child well-being and thanked Holder for the progress made during his tenure to end the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
“Mr. Holder has exemplified the difference between talk and action, between knowing what’s right and doing what’s right, between bemoaning bad policy and doing something about it,” McCarthy said. “We’ve had the good fortune to partner with Attorney General Holder’s Department of Justice in several areas including expanding detention reform to several additional states.”
McCarthy said that under Holder, the Justice Department has demonstrated that it is “serious about reducing disparities and, given the momentum you’ve established during your tenure, Mr. Attorney General, we have every reason to believe it will continue to take action.”