Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships Evaluation Summary

Study finds promoting healthy relationships has a positive impact in middle school

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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation commissioned the independent research firm, RTI International to evaluate Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships, their four-year, teen dating violence (TDV) prevention program, in collaboration with Blue Shield of California Foundation (BCSF) and Futures Without Violence. From 2008 to 2012, RWJF and BSCF invested $18 million in 11 Start Strong sites across the country to promote healthy relationships among 11- to 14-year-olds and identify promising strategies to prevent TDV.

The Start Strong evaluation is one of the few, and largest, studies to take an in-depth look at healthy relationship development and TDV prevention efforts involving middle school students. The Start Strong evaluation consisted of two parts: an outcome evaluation and a policy evaluation. The overall purpose of the evaluation was to assess the overall impact of Start Strong by looking at: the effectiveness of the program among students and teachers; and the adoption, implementation, and sustainability of TDV prevention policy efforts in Start Strong sites. The baseline findings of the student outcome evaluation were released in March 2011 in a report called “Middle School Matters”.

This evaluation offers new information on the dating behaviors and attitudes of middle school students and outcome findings to inform TDV prevention efforts.

Key Findings

  • Start Strong had a sustained positive impact on middle-school students’ attitudes towards teen dating violence and gender equality, two key factors linked to the prevention of TDV.

  • By fall 2012, six of the 11 Start Strong communities achieved significant policy wins.  As a direct result of their work, five sites secured important changes to TDV-related school district policies. Sites also provided technical assistance and awareness-building to inform changes to state legislation. State legislation was strengthened in three states.

  • In addition, all 11 sites established one or more practice changes that remained in place in the school year after the completion of Start Strong funding. Practice changes included TDV education, staff training and parent education.

Lessons Learned

Dating Violence Prevention

Teen dating violence and abuse is a major public health problem in this country. A new online tool kit shares best practices from Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships—RWJF's national program working to prevent teen dating violence.

The interactive site includes facts, tips, and resources all designed to put young people on the road to healthy relationships.

View the online toolkit