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Originally published July 7, 2009 at 3:56 PM | Page modified July 7, 2009 at 11:46 PM

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Child advocate at Seattle summit blames youth violence on adults

Youth violence is not the fault of children and teens, but instead represents the failure of adults to instill key values and provide basic services to young people, one of the nation's leading child advocates said at youth-violence summit in Seattle Tuesday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Youth violence is not the fault of children and teens, but instead represents the failure of adults to instill key values and provide basic services to young people, one of the nation's leading child advocates said at youth-violence summit in Seattle Tuesday.

"America needs to reset its moral compass," said Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Children's Defense Fund, during the keynote address of the city-sponsored event held at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club and Rainier Valley Teen Center.

Edelman's remarks helped kick off a day of speeches and group discussions aimed at preventing youth violence, under the banner of the city's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative.

Citing everything from allowing children to watch excessive violence on television to the country's failure to provide prenatal care to all women, Edelman said parents have shirked their duties while government officials have spent too much time figuring how to incarcerate youth and not enough on health care, education and ending poverty.

"We've got to break up this cradle-to-prison pipeline," said Edelman, whose nonprofit organization, founded in 1973, champions policies and programs to combat child poverty, abuse and neglect and improve health care, quality education and moral and spiritual values for youth.

Dealing with health issues at a young age is more cost-effective in the long run, saving society future financial burdens, Edelman said.

"We can't afford not to do it," she said.

As part of that, Edelman said, mental-health treatment cannot be overlooked.

"Children should not have to go to jail to get mental-health care," she said.

Dental care also is a key component, Edelman said, pointing to the death of a 12-year-old Maryland boy who died of an infection stemming from an abscessed tooth because of difficulty finding dental care.

"Children should not die from toothaches in the United States of America," she said, drawing loud applause in a large room filled with city officials, community activists and others.

Despite its wealth, the U.S. has higher infant-mortality rates and lags other nations in math and science scores, Edelman said.

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"Shame on us," she declared.

Education is the "civil-rights issue" our of our time, Edelman said, urging the hiring of good teachers and getting rid of bad ones.

Stamping out illiteracy and reducing dropout rates will stem the flow into the nation's prisons, she said.

Mayor Greg Nickels, who launched the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative with the backing of the City Council after five teenagers were shot to death in Seattle in 2008, convened Tuesday's summit.

About $9 million has been dedicated to programs that focus on some 800 children yearly who have been identified as being at highest risk of perpetuating violence or becoming victims.

In remarks at the gathering, Nickels said tackling youth violence requires committed, loving adults, whom he urged to do volunteer work.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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