Creating a Window for Teen Dating Violence Prevention Policies Within the Start Strong Initiative

Young people at a meeting

Start Strong grantees implement a multicomponent approach to improve state and local policies for the prevention of teen dating violence and related behaviors.

The Issue:

The Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships initiative was implemented from 2008 through 2012 with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Blue Shield of California Foundation. Eleven Start Strong sites implemented a multicomponent approach that included efforts to improve relevant policies in grantees’ states and communities in a national effort to reduce teen dating violence (TDV) by promoting healthy relationship skills among middle school students.

Key Findings

  • Among the 11 sites, four had specific TDV policies; eight had policies addressing related behaviors (e.g., bullying or sexual harassment); and one had no TDV or TDV-related policies.

  • The existence of policy did not necessarily ensure desired practice. Prevention practice was hampered by low levels of policy implementation, as well as limited knowledge and understanding of policies by staff tasked with implementing and enforcing the policies.

Conclusion:

The 11 Start Strong sites made substantial policy impacts within the context of their TDV prevention efforts. Start Strong sites developed and/or enhanced policy even though they: 1) worked within the constraints of a two-year timeline; 2) operated within very different contexts and; (3) had varying, and often low levels of resources in practice change areas at the beginning of the initiative.

Start Strong grantees received guidance on strategies and a model policy that included sample language and implementation tools. The initiative’s funding terms did not allow grantees to directly promote specific legislation. Instead, grantees enhanced policy by raising awareness of TDV among policymakers, broadening the base of support for policy change, and acting as expert resources within the policy development process.

About the Evaluation:

Start Strong’s independent evaluation included a multimethod evaluation of the initiative’s policy component. The policy evaluation focused on grantees’ efforts to improve policy through adoption of new policy, adaptation of existing policy, and implementation of existing policy, as well as interim and short-term outcomes.