Start Strong Atlanta was a part of nationwide initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation targeting 11-14 year olds to prevent teen dating violence and abuse. The Jane Fonda Center received $1 million to work with two primary partners, Atlanta Public Schools and Grady Health Systems, and a variety of other partners in an effort to rally our community and teach young teens the qualities of a healthy relationship. The nationwide project, Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships, included 10 other sites around the United States, http://www.startstrongteens.org
The initiative had four core strategies:
Educate and engage 11- to 14-year-olds about adolescent dating abuse in schools and in out-of-school settings.
Educate and engage teen influencers such as parents/caregivers, teachers, counselors, coaches, youth program mentors, young mentors (15-18 year olds) and other mentors (health clinic personnel, family planning providers, school nurses, etc.) to support 11- to 14-year-olds in developing healthy relationships and preventing adolescent dating abuse.
Change policies and environmental factors to promote development of healthy relationships and prevent adolescent dating abuse.
Implement communications strategies to promote development of healthy relationships and prevent adolescent dating abuse.
In the four years of the initiative, Start Strong Atlanta trained 46 APS 7th grade health teachers to deliver the Safe Dates curriculum. Safe Dates is an evidence-based curriculum that helps to promote healthy relationship development among adolescents, focusing on concepts such as conflict resolution, communication skills, healthy decision-making, equitable gender roles and self confidence. More than 2,100 students received the lessons. APS has committed to teaching the curriculum for the next few years, ensuring that their students understand the importance of healthy relationships.
To engage influencers, older teens, parents/caregivers and community groups were targeted. For each year of the grant, the Center hired and trained teen peer leaders from the Grady Teen Services Clinic, a clinic devoted to reproductive health. Sixty teen influencers were trained to be ambassadors for the initiative in the Atlanta community and to conduct the Safe Dates play and workshops for the Atlanta Public Schools. By the end of the initiative, each school had at least one play performed with these influencers as cast members, and 3,464 7th graders saw the play. The teens also performed the plays, conducted workshops, presented booths at health fairs/schools for groups outside of APS middle schools throughout four years, reaching more than 8,700 teens. Start Strong Atlanta also conducted parent workshops, training more than 320 parents and caregivers. Start Strong Atlanta also conducted workshops and presentations with a variety of our partner organizations around the city. About 560 attended the workshops/presentations, from a diverse list of organizations.
Start Strong Atlanta influenced policy changes to address healthy relationships and prevent adolescent dating abuse. The successes were numerous:
The Grady Teen Services Clinic and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta instituted our dating violence screening recommendations into their health screening policies, meaning that these health providers will be proactive in preventing and deterring dating abuse with all patients.
Start Strong Atlanta successfully lobbied to get healthy relationship and dating abuse prevention topics as a primary component of the Peace Plan developed by the Metro Atlanta Violence Prevention Partnership (MAVPP).
The Georgia Department of Education invited Center staff to conduct a live, online webinar for Georgia teachers interested in implementing healthy relationship education in their classes. The webinar is recorded and teachers in Georgia can access it at any time.
The Georgia Commission on Family Violence contacted us during the last few months of the grant to submit ways to address teen dating violence prevention in its statewide plan. The Commission ended up including it in their draft of proposed policy, and we believe it will have a great impact on Georgia if adopted.
Throughout the initiative, we maintained a meaningful working relationship with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who sponsored two bills to address teen dating violence prevention nationwide. We met with his office staff and youth council at his Atlanta office, and we met him and his senior staff to discuss violence prevention and teen dating violence prevention. We are very fortunate to have the civil rights pioneer as our U.S. Representative.
The Jane Fonda Center initiated several components to influence media and establish social media channels for teens. The initiative was covered by local television, local newspapers, teen-centered media and national broadcast media throughout the four years of the program.
The teen peer leaders helped the Center establish Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr and Pinterest social media sites. The primary website, Keep It Strong, was also designed by the teen influencers to be a safe, interactive space where young teens could approach older teens with questions about relationships.