Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Launches Largest National Public Health Initiative Ever Funded to Stop the Spread of Teen Dating Violence

Blue Shield of California Foundation and Family Violence Prevention Fund unite with RWJF to build Start Strong, the largest prevention initiative aimed at 11- to 14-year-olds.

    • July 30, 2009

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launches Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships today, the largest initiative ever funded to target 11- to 14-year-old youth to promote healthy relationships as the way to prevent teen dating violence and abuse. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Blue Shield of California Foundation* are investing $18 million in 11 communities across the country to identify and evaluate the most promising pathways to stop dating violence and abuse before it starts. Representatives from both foundations will join with some of the nation’s top health and youth experts in the field, community advocates and youth to officially kick-off Start Strong and participate in the first Start Strong Annual Meeting. The conference is hosted by Blue Shield of California Foundation and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, the national program office for the Start Strong initiative.

As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving health and health care of all Americans, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is making this unprecedented financial invest in Start Strong over four years specifically to prevent teen dating abuse and combat this costly and growing public health epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that intimate partner violence costs this country over $8 billion per year, a substantial portion of which includes health care and mental health services. Yet, Congress only allocated $1.5 million last year for health programs to specifically address domestic and sexual violence victims.

“Our focus on preventing intimate partner violence fits squarely into the mission of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Vulnerable Populations Portfolio. Intimate partner violence is one of the nation’s most serious public health problems. In addition to physically injuring women and men, it undermines the fundamental idea of family as a place of support and nurture. Our health and well being are critically connected to how we live, work, learn and play,” says James Marks, M.D., M.P.H., senior vice president and director, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Group. “Our goal is to discover new public health models that can, of course, prevent relationship violence and even more help our young people build relationships of warmth and mutual support, and that is why the focus on adolescents is essential.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experienced physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. Even more alarming, a study released by the Multisite Violence Prevention Project reveals that half of all sixth graders say they are dating and 42.1 percent of these children report being victims of physical dating violence.

In November, 11 community organizations were chosen after a rigorous seven month selection process, which drew more than 500 applications nationwide, to receive $1 million in funding through the Start Strong initiative. As part of Start Strong, communities will work with the Family Violence Prevention Fund to find new breakthrough ways to empower 11- to 14- year-olds to stop the spread of dating violence. Start Strong takes a public health approach to prevention by working outside the individual to affect communitywide change and promote positive health behaviors.

“This is one of the most important initiatives ever launched in this country to stop teen dating violence," said Family Violence Prevention Fund President Esta Soler. "We are so grateful to
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Blue Shield of California Foundation for putting unprecedented energy and resources into finding solutions to a problem that affects every school and every community. Teen dating violence is a huge but preventable problem, and this initiative—and the conference this week—will help us gather the best ideas for solutions from youth themselves and those who work most closely with them.”

Start Strong is creating a unique learning community comprising of health centers, community and domestic violence organizations, youth programs, middle schools and high schools who will create innovative prevention models that can be replicated across the country. Each community has developed a comprehensive plan that focuses on four core strategies involving in-class curriculum, policy change, work with mentors and communications strategies to empower youth to develop healthy relationships.

A survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates reinforces the need to engage parents in the prevention of teen dating violence and abuse. The study shows that parents rank being in unhealthy or abusive romantic relationships last on the list of problems that their preteen children are facing today. A critical component of Start Strong will be to rally parents along with caregivers, educators, coaches and community leaders to build environments that support healthy relationships and ensure violence and abuse are never tolerated.

"Youth are breaking out of the Chris Brown/Rihanna mold and stepping forward to build healthy relationships," said Blue Shield of California Foundation President and CEO Crystal Hayling. "Start Strong encourages both boys and girls to find a positive path away from teen dating violence. We've reached critical mass on this important issue this year, and Start Strong is playing a lead role.”

This national kick-off is the first collaborative meeting involving teen leaders from all 11 Start Strong sites, ranging in age from 13 to 18 years old. Together more than 100 teens, community partners, practitioners and experts will convene to generate new ideas on how to combat this growing epidemic and share innovative plans from their own communities. The youth summit will involve workshops on community building and creating social movements, as well as the design and development of the “Start Strong Youth Network,” a mechanism for teens from all of the Start Strong sites to share information and best practices and collaborate with other Start Strong youth from across the country.

The Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships sites:

  • Boston Public Health Commission—Start Strong Boston
    Partners: Boston Centers for Youth & Families, Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston and Roxbury Multi Service Center
  • Bronx-Lebanon Hospital—Start Strong Bronx
    Partners: New York City's Department of Education, the Bronx Borough President’s Office and Sanctuary for Families
  • Catholic Charities—Start Strong Wichita
    Partners: Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center, Wichita Public School District, Wichita State University Department of Sociology and the Wichita State University Center for Community Support & Research
  • Clarian Health—Start Strong Indianapolis
    Partners: Ruth Lily Health Education Center, Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township and the Domestic Violence Network of Greater Indianapolis
  • Emory University—Start Strong Atlanta
    Partners: Grady Memorial Hospital and Atlanta Public Schools
  • Family Violence Law Center—Start Strong Oakland
    Partners: Youth ALIVE!, Youth Radio and the Oakland Unified School District
  • Idaho Coalition against Sexual and Domestic Violence—Start Strong Idaho
    Partners: St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center and the Idaho Department of Education
  • Peace Over Violence—Start Strong Los Angeles
    Partners: Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of Southern California's Institute for Multimedia Literacy and El Centro del Pueblo
  • RYASAP—Start Strong Bridgeport
    Partners: Greater Bridgeport Adolescent Pregnancy Program and Playhouse on the Green
  • SafePlace—Start Strong Austin
    Partners: Austin Independent School District, Boys and Girls Club of the Capital Area and Seton Family of Hospitals
  • Sojourner House—Start Strong Providence
    Partners: Rhode Island Department of Education and Young Voices

* Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is funding 10 sites around the country and Blue Shield of California Foundation is funding one site in California.


Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those we serve. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.

Blue Shield of California Foundation
Blue Shield of California Foundation, one of the largest health care grantmaking organizations in California, has committed a total of $24.6 million since 2002 to ending domestic violence in the state. The Foundation was formed by Blue Shield of California, a not-for-profit corporation with more than 3.4 million members, 4700 employees and more than 20 offices throughout California.

Family Violence Prevention Fund
The Family Violence Prevention Fund works to end violence against women and children around the world, because every person has the right to live free of violence. The FVPF has continued to break new ground by reaching new audiences including men and youth, promoting leadership within communities to ensure that violence prevention efforts become self-sustaining, and transforming the way health care providers, police, judges, employers and others respond to violence. Its public education campaigns, conducted in partnership with The Advertising Council, have shaped public awareness and changed social norms for 15 years.

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