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Supporting Youth this February and throughout the Year

Photo a teenage guy kissing a teenage girl's cheek.Resources from the Family and Youth Services Bureau and the Office of Adolescent Health


By Evelyn Kappeler, Director, Office of Adolescent Health; Marylouise Kelley, PhD., Director, Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, Family & Youth Services Bureau; and Resa Matthew, PhD., Director, Division of Adolescent Development and Support, Family & Youth Services Bureau

As this year’s Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, we want to take a moment to share some ways the U.S.  Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is dedicated to promoting healthy and safe outcomes for adolescents and teens. Throughout the year, the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH), and the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), work to prevent all types of teen dating violence, support young survivors, and encourage adolescents and teens to build healthy relationship skills. OAH is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of adolescents to enable them to become healthy, productive adults. Complementing this work, FYSB is committed to promoting safety, stability and well-being for people who have experienced or been exposed to violence, neglect or trauma, including youth.

When declaring February National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, President Obama noted that one in 10 American teenagers suffers physical violence at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend each year; many others are sexually or emotionally abused. This abuse, also known as dating violence, can have long-term health impacts; an extensive body of research reveals that victims often suffer lifelong health consequences, such as emotional trauma, lasting physical impairment, chronic health problems, and even death.i New research may also suggest that the prevalence of teen dating violence is even higher than reported. Last July, a survey by the American Psychological Association revealed that one in three American teens say they have been physically, emotionally or sexually abused in dating relationships; this is nearly comparable to the national prevalence of intimate partner violence among adult women. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, conducted each year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one in three women, or 36 percent, have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

From the CDC and other experts, we know that a history of prior abuse is one of the greatest risk factors for an individual to become either a future victim or perpetrator of interpersonal violence.ii That is why the work across HHS to prevent and respond to teen dating violence is so critical: what we do today to build resiliency among adolescents who have already experienced abuse, and how we teach teens healthy relationship skills, will significantly minimize their exposure to violence as they enter adulthood. The high extent to which young people in communities across our country are experiencing abuse is a call to action. Here are some of the ways in which OAH and FYSB are responding to the call:

  • Simply encouraging young people to talk about their views on healthy relationships, particularly with parents, or other trusted adults, can be vitally important in preventing abuse or supporting teens to seek help. Talking with Teens is an online resource from OAH that provides parents (and foster parents, guardians and other parenting and caring adults) tips for getting the conversation started with their adolescents on sensitive topics, including healthy relationships and dating violence.
  • In order to best respond to teen dating violence, it’s critical to hear directly from teens about the experiences of themselves and their peers. This is particularly helpful for teachers, school site counselors, and others working with young people. Adolescent Healthy Relationships Facts, compiled by OAH, are based on national and state survey data and posted online as a resource. Vital information is available, including: the percent of high school students who have ever had sexual intercourse; the percent of high school students who were hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend; and the percent of high school students who were ever physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.
  • Around the clock, the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline provides a direct response to youth seeking help, advice and safety planning about dating violence. The Helpline is a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is supported by FYSB’s Family Violence Prevention and Services Program (FVPSA).

Relationship abuse often leads to, and can intensify with, unintended pregnanciesiii, particularly for teens. That is why OAH and FYSB have a number of initiatives to prevent teen pregnancy, support pregnant teens and young parents, and teach healthy relationship skills to prevent dating violence among young and expectant parents:

  • OAH’s Pregnancy Assistance Fund, administered through the Affordable Care Act, funds States and Tribes to provide support services to expectant and parenting teens, women, fathers, and their families. PAF grantees conduct numerous activities, including improving services for pregnant women who are victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  On July 29, 2013, OAH announced the second cohort of 17 PAF grantees for a 4-year period (8/1/2013 – 07/31/2017). The first PAF cohort included 17 grantees in 2010 for a 3-year period. To support PAF grantees, OAH’s PAF Resource and Training Center contains training, technical assistance, and skill-building information as well as guides, tips and resources, including information for those working in the arena of teen dating violence and sexual assault, to build the capacity of organizations supporting expectant and parenting teens, women, fathers, and their families.
  • FYSB’s Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program (APP) oversees the State Personal Responsibility and Education Program (PREP) grants, which educate young people on preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, with a special focus on reaching disadvantaged youth who are homeless, in foster care, or living in rural areas or areas with high teen birth rates. Over the past year, FVPSA has partnered with APP to provide targeted training on trauma and intimate partner violence for PREP grantees, including training for Tribal PREP grantees co-led by the National Center for Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health, and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.  These trainings reached frontline staff delivering services to youth on how to identify trauma related to intimate partner violence and best practices for using trauma-informed and culturally relevant approaches in teen pregnancy program implementation. Webinars on this topic, and others, are available for viewing online.
  • In time for Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2013, FVPSA and APP collaborated to develop a Toolkit to Incorporate Adolescent Relationship Abuse Prevention into Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Programming. This online collection of resources for APP grantees provides materials to incorporate adolescent relationship abuse (ARA) prevention into their projects. It presents a process for incorporating ARA prevention and provides practical tools that grantees can choose from and adapt to best fit their projects and participants.

As the directors of the Office of Adolescent Health, FYSB’s Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, we are continually working to promote the health, safety and well-being of young people in communities across the United States. Too many teens experience dating violence, but may be too afraid to talk about it. Through our combined efforts, and those of our grantees, we are hopeful that more youth will feel safe to disclose, and that all young people are empowered with the knowledge that their relationships affect their health.

Follow the Office of Adolescent Health on Twitter with @TeenHealthGov, and follow the Administration for Children and Families, home to FYSB, with @ACFHHS.




iiiSilverman JG, Raj A, Clements K. “Dating violence and associated sexual risk and pregnancy among U.S. adolescent girls.” American Journal of Pediatrics, 2004.

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