Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships

An RWJF national program

Dates of Program: December 2007 to August 2013

Description: Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships (Start Strong) worked to prevent teen dating violence by teaching 11- to 14-year-olds about healthy relationships, engaging the people who influence them, using social marketing to deliver relevant messages, and changing school policies. Eleven communities developed and implemented Start Strong’s comprehensive model. The program’s sites were, Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Boston; Bridgeport, Conn.; Bronx, N.Y.; Idaho; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Rhode Island; and Wichita, Kan.

Each site used a community-based model, with schools as a focal point and teens informing and leading programs to build healthy relationships. The model’s four components were:

  1. Educate youth (in and out of school)
  2. Engage influencers
  3. Social marketing
  4. Policy change

RWJF implemented this $18.5 million national program in collaboration with Blue Shield of California Foundation, which funded the Los Angeles site and contributed to the evaluation and convenings. Futures without Violence managed the program. RTI conducted an evaluation of outcomes and policy change.

Evaluation Findings

  • The RTI evaluation found:

    • Start Strong had a sustained positive impact on middle school students’ attitudes towards teen dating violence and gender equality, two key factors related to teen dating violence.
    • Start Strong significantly increased communication between middle school students and their parents and relationship satisfaction with boyfriends or girlfriends over the short term (Fall 2010 to Spring 2011).
    • Start Strong students who reported being victims or perpetrators of teen dating violence, or both, in fall 2010 showed more positive results on some outcomes than students who had not experienced teen dating violence.
    • Five of the 11 sites reported either adopting new policies or enhancing existing policies related to preventing teen dating violence.
    • All 11 sites established at least one practice change that was still in place in the school year after Start Strong ended.

Key Results

Futures without Violence reported that Start Strong raised awareness of teen dating violence and moved the field more toward prevention, with a focus on programs for middle school-aged youth. The program:

  • Implemented curricula about teen dating violence in middle schools, reaching more than 23,000 students, and bolstered this with education through clubs, community groups, and other extracurricular activities
  • Engaged parents, older teens, health care providers, and others to help 11- to 14-year-olds build healthy relationship skills
  • Spread messages and knowledge about healthy relationships through online and offline social marketing
  • Developed model school and school district policies designed to prevent teen dating violence and abuse

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Nearly 10% of students in grades 9-12 were hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.