Opportunities for Teen Dating Violence Disclosure in Youth-Serving Healthy Relationship Programs

Publication Date: August 18, 2020
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Research Questions

  1. How do three tools for inviting TDV disclosure compare in their ability to guide HMRE program responses to their participants’ TDV-related needs?
  2. How well do the tools work from the perspectives of HMRE program participants, staff, and partners?

Teen dating violence is widespread and linked to a host of negative short- and long-term outcomes for youth. Youth are rarely offered an explicit opportunity to disclose these experiences to a trusted adult or told where they can get help if they need it. 

High school–based healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) programs, funded by the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, represent one opportunity for reaching youth experiencing teen dating violence (TDV) and connecting them with help. With funding from OFA, ACF’s Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation contracted with RTI International to conduct the Responding to Intimate Violence in Relationship Programs (RIViR) study.

The overarching objective of the RIViR study was to assess and compare the effectiveness of TDV assessment approaches for identifying youth HMRE program participants experiencing TDV so that they can be referred for further services. The study examined both the accuracy of the tools in assessing TDV and the feasibility of administering them in HMRE programs, including youth and staff perceptions of the tools and strategies for overcoming implementation challenges. The RIViR project partnered with two OFA-funded HMRE programs—More Than Conquerors, Inc. of Conyers, Georgia and Youth and Family Services of Rapid City, South Dakota—to examine and compare three different approaches to recognizing and responding to TDV in youth-serving programs.


This report describes the impetus for efforts to recognize and respond to TDV in HMRE programs and gives a brief overview of the RIViR study design and methods; details RIViR study results on building organizational capacity and readiness for addressing TDV, choosing an approach to inviting TDV disclosure, and protecting TDV survivor safety; and summarizes the limitations of the study and key directions for future research and practice.

Key Findings and Highlights

This study is the first of its kind to examine the accuracy of TDV assessment tools among youth served by high school-based HMRE programs and youth and staff perceptions of TDV assessment.

Qualitative findings indicate that TDV assessment in the context of school-based HMRE programs is both feasible and acceptable to staff and youth. They highlight aspects of organizational readiness and capacity that were key to implementing these strategies: building an active partnership with a local domestic violence organization committed to serving youth, creating a comfortable and interactive environment, and investing staff time in careful planning and coordination. Quantitative study results demonstrate high specificity but relatively low sensitivity of TDV assessment tools. Findings indicate that a shorter tool (three questions total) asking about experiences with physical violence and sexual coercion can work at least as well as a longer questionnaire.

Overall, study findings suggest that both questionnaire-style tools (self-administered by youth on tablets) and universal education (offered through one-on-one conversations with staff) helped youth with a variety of life experiences and dispositions to clarify their relationship experiences and connect with sources of support.


HMRE programs selected for the RIViR study delivered classroom-based instruction to youth in public and parochial high schools. HMRE program staff used three different web-based tools to offer youth an opportunity to share their experiences with TDV in different formats.

Youth self-administered each of two questionnaire-style tools on tablets while sitting in the classroom with other youth. The third tool took a universal education approach and guided a one-on-one conversation between HMRE program staff and students about healthy and unhealthy relationships, TDV concerns, and available resources. Staff recorded whether youth raised any TDV-related concerns. The three tools were given in random order over the course of the HMRE program, and each took approximately 5–10 minutes to complete. 

The RIViR study team also conducted onsite qualitative interviews with HMRE program staff, their local domestic violence program partners, and youth participants in each site to understand how youth and service providers saw the tools and the process of implementing them.

To address the first research question, the study team conducted a latent class analysis to compare assessment results from all three tools. To address the second research question, the team used regression analysis to compare youth participants’ responses to these interactions (comfort, openness, resource knowledge, and perceptions of the interaction with staff) after completion of different tools. We also conducted a formal, inductive analysis of qualitative interview data in ATLAS.ti to identify major themes.


Findings suggest that HMRE programs working to build organizational capacity and readiness should

  • Actively partner with a local domestic violence program with a commitment to serving youth;
  • Involve and train staff who are highly skilled at relating to youth; and
  • Dedicate staff time to planning and data management.

To create survivor-centered, trauma-informed opportunities for TDV disclosure, study results suggest that HMRE programs should

  • Be transparent with youth about any reporting obligations;
  • Offer TDV assessments more than once, using more than one approach;
  • Assess physical violence and sexual coercion—questionnaire-style TDV assessment tools need to ask about experiences with physical violence and with sexual coercion; and
  • Provide universal education—universal education means providing all youth with information about TDV and available resources.

Finally, results suggest that programs can help protect the safety of TDV survivors by supporting and informing youth who do and do not choose to disclose their TDV experiences to HMRE program staff. HMRE programs should

  • Plan for a confidential onsite follow-up conversation;
  • Offer referrals to a variety of resources; and
  • Make sure all youth know where to find help.


McKay, Tasseli E., Kan, Marni L., Brinton, Julia E., Berzofsky, Marcus E., Biemer, Paul, Edwards, Susan L., Landwehr, Justin, Krieger, Kathleen, and Bir, Anupa, 2020. "Opportunities for Teen Dating Violence Disclosure in Youth-Serving Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) Programs.” OPRE Report 2020-79 Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.



Domestic violence program:
Often referred to as “domestic violence agencies” or “domestic violence organizations,” domestic violence programs are community-based service organizations that provide a wide range of direct services for people experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV). Current ACF-funded HMRE grantees partner with local domestic violence programs to guide their IPV-related activities, like domestic violence protocol development, staff training on IPV, and referring program participants to services.
Domestic violence protocol:
A domestic violence protocol outlines a program’s plan for identifying and responding to IPV, TDV, and related issues. Within the context of HMRE programs, a domestic violence protocol can help ensure that IPV issues are safely, routinely, and consistently identified and appropriately addressed. It is a tool to help make sure that adequate supports and safeguards are in place for families or individuals dealing with IPV. The protocol can be an important resource for anyone involved in a program, providing concrete guidance and clarifying roles and responsibilities for different program partners.
Healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) program:
A healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) program implements curriculum-based relationship education and related activities, like case management or financial education. ACF has historically funded many HMRE programs, but they also exist outside of ACF funding initiatives.
IPV is physical, sexual, or emotional harm by a spouse, partner, or former partner.
The proportion of a population that has a particular experience (e.g., disease, injury, other health condition, or attribute) at a specified point in time or during a specified period.
Reference period:
A reference period is the time frame for which survey respondents are asked to report on a particular experience like IPV.
For purposes of this study, which was focused on teen dating violence (TDV), sensitivity refers to the probability that a tool will indicate the presence of TDV when a participant has experienced TDV.
For purposes of this study, which was focused on TDV, specificity refers to the probability that a tool will indicate the absence of TDV when a participant has not experienced TDV.
Also referred to as “adolescent relationship abuse,” TDV is physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional harm within a teen relationship, including stalking.
Trauma-informed services:
Trauma-informed services are those “influenced by an understanding of the impact of interpersonal violence and victimization on an individual’s life and development.”
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