Saturday, February 28, 2009

Preventing Family Violence: The Challenges of Collaboration

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do a briefing on family violence prevention (by "family violence" I mean child abuse and partner/domestic violence, including psychological, physical and sexual abuse).

You can see the power point slide show at my slideshare page here. (Though it did not upload as cleanly as I would have liked, so email me if you'd like a copy of it.)

Since the presentation, I've been thinking about how challenging preventing family violence can be. I remembered a research interview I did with a director of a sexual assault agency here in North Carolina about some of these challenges.

The director and I were talking about her agency's prevention programs. One of the programs she thought was very successful for her community was a high school-based prevention program that used educational and interactive seminars with teenagers . (This was one of the rare communities where the sexual assault program had a collaborative relationship with their local high school.) The director told me how disappointing it was that the school recently told her that her agency's prevention staff could not have time with the students any longer because the school needed to spend more time working on the students' standardized testing skills.

I remembered this conversation as I developed my prevention briefing. This director's experience with the school underscores the challenge of family violence prevention. Preventing family violence is difficult because so many organizations and people- who have very different goals and priorities- have to work together to deliver prevention strategies and to make these strategies work successfully.

Research shows that there is no one-stop, quick, silver-bullet solution to family violence prevention. Effective strategies for preventing family violence take time and collaborative work from many people and organizations.

Research also shows that high schools are a great place to target family violence prevention efforts. The time when most of us first experience relationship/dating violence or sexual assault is in our adolescence. If we wait to deliver prevention programs to young adults after high school, we are too late to prevent anything.

Also, most promising prevention strategies for family violence are for teenagers. As a teenager you are just beginning to date and develop relationships for the first time. It's a perfect time to learn that it's not okay to hurt someone you love. It's also a perfect time to learn that if someone you love is hurting you, you do not have to live with the abuse and that you can get help to end the violence. So if we want to prevent family violence, our best best is delivering prevention strategies to high school and junior high school students.

Schools are a great place to deliver these preventions because the kids are there all in one place (for the most part). But- as the story above shows- delivering family violence preventions in high schools is challenging to do because it takes collaboration from other community organizations and because schools have other priorities and goals.

This not to say that these priorities and goals are not worthy ones. (Though improving a student's standardized testing skills may be debatable).

Nonetheless, research shows that a quarter of women in the U.S. will experience partner violence, and a quarter of U.S. adults (women and men) tell researchers that they experienced abuse when they were children. More and more research shows the horrible and grave costs of such violence. Given how widespread family violence is and given the serious costs, it seems that preventing family violence should be a priority, too.

We are unlikely ever to know fully what happened between Chris Brown and Rihanna. Still, I can't help but wonder if they both received family violence prevention information and skills in junior high or high school, would be hearing more about their music and less about their relationship now?