Strengthen Family Relationships to Prevent Teen Dating Violence

By William Wubbenhorst, FYSB Associate Commissioner

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Teen dating violence is defined as abuse (physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional) within a dating relationship. In 2017, 6.9 percent of students experienced sexual dating violence and 8.0 percent of students experienced physical dating violence within the previous 12 months of being surveyed. These statistics are indeed troubling, however, the CDC YRBS Trend Report encouragingly stated that percentages decreased from 2013-2017.

Prevention and intervention efforts are key to continuing the current promising decline in teen dating violence. ACF programs help improve outcomes of healthy relationships and prevent or reduce the likelihood of teen dating violence when aimed at:

  • promoting resiliency and healing for youth,
  • developing protective factors,
  • increasing youths’ knowledge and enhancing their beliefs and attitudes about healthy relationships,
  • supporting parents and caregivers’ ability to care for and bond with children and youth, and
  • strengthening the parent and child bond, among many other strategies.

With increased knowledge, skills, and competency about healthy relationships, many youth make better relationship decisions. In efforts to ensure the most comprehensive support is provided to youth, all three of FYSB’s programs work in partnership to assist each other and build a network of youth-focused services.

In the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program (FVSPA), research tells us that healthy and secure parent-child relationships, as well as safe families and communities, can provide children and youth with strong models for healthy relationships. With this in mind, FVPSA’s Specialized Services for Abused Parents and their Children (SSAPC) grant program provides funding to support parents and strengthen the bond between parents and children who have been exposed to domestic violence. Grantees support these goals by offering direct services, like parent education, support groups, and behavioral interventions. SSAPC grantees also work to increase the capacity of systems to improve the safety and well-being of children and families.

The Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (APP) Program and the Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) Program (in FYSB’s Division of Adolescent Development and Support) focus on a Positive Youth Development (PYD) framework. PYD strives to help youth develop protective factors, such as family support and healthy relationships. To this end, APP and RHY grantees engage youth and families about healthy relationships, communication, respect/equity, etc. Developing protective factors ultimately reduce the risk of developing unhealthy behaviors that can lead to teen dating violence.

FYSB is working with our partners across ACF to bring visibility to federal programs, service providers, federal agencies, and national organizations supporting young people in building healthy relationships. For example, the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) supports a Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood (HMRF) initiative, which funds responsible parenting, healthy relationship and marriage education, and economic stability services and activities. As evidenced through their Healthy Relationships and Intimate Partner Violence Collaborations, OFA is aware that families served by their grant programs may be experiencing teen dating violence, which can interfere with the achievement of project goals and outcomes. Among other projects, OFA launched PAIVED, Preventing and Addressing Intimate Violence when Engaging Dads, to identify approaches that federally funded Responsible Fatherhood programs could take to address and contribute to domestic violence prevention among fathers. Parents and caregivers play an important role in modeling healthy and respectful relationships. Further, the role of involved fathers is important and has been shown to improve outcomes for children and youth.

By working together to raise awareness and build effective partnerships, ACF can continue to support the downward trend of youth experiencing dating violence. Let’s Huddle Up for Healthy Relationships to bring awareness to the myriad of intersecting issues facing teens and to promote healthy relationships for healthy families and communities. Here’s how you can get involved:

  1. Wear Orange to raise awareness of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
  2. Join the events and webinars scheduled throughout February to learn more about Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
  3. Encourage youth to talk about healthy relationships when engaging in youth-led events and activities.
  4. Find out more about Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month activities by visiting www.acf.hhs.gov/fvpsa and https://www.loveisrespect.org/teendvmonth/.

If you or someone you know is experiencing dating violence, help is available 24/7/365:

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