Where to Find Best Practices for Serving Children, Youth, and Parents Experiencing Domestic Violence

A new website from the violence-prevention nonprofit Futures Without Violence offers youth and family workers lots of resources for working with children exposed to or experiencing domestic violence.Promising Futures: Best Practices for Serving Children, Youth, and Parents Experiencing Domestic Violence includes tips, advice and a wealth of resources for service providers.                                        The site's five sections are:

  • Program Readiness: This section emphasizes the importance of building and sustaining the mother-child relationship after trauma. You'll learn to consider the environment, policies, and community connections that affect the youth and families you work with.
  • Advancing the Field: Learn about research, read about advocates and programs doing great work, and get some advice on keeping a record of the great work you are doing.
  • Tools: Find practical resources for staff, families and youth. Learn about program development and expansion.

We also particularly like the site's infographic on promoting resiliency among children and youth experiencing domestic violence.  

Primary Sources: Can Text Messages Reduce Risky Drinking and Sexual Behavior?

"A Sex Risk Reduction Text-Message Program for Young Adult Females Discharged From the Emergency Department" (abstract). Brian Suffoletto, Aletha Akers, Kathleen A. McGinnis, et al. Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 53, No. 3 (September 2013).

What it’s about: In an effort to reduce risky sexual behavior, researchers selected 52 young women to participate in a short-term, weekly text messaging program. The 18- to 24-year-old participants were recruited from an urban Pennsylvania emergency department and had reported a recent risky sexual encounter and hazardous drinking.

Why read it: Because so many young adults own a mobile phone (95 percent, according to this study’s authors) and text often to communicate with friends and family, public health practitioners have been experimenting with promoting health and preventing illness using text messages. Text messaging has been used to promote sexual health among young adults by improving communication between patients and sexual health clinics as well as helping to collect data about sexual risk-taking. This study aimed to find a way to get such a program into the hands of young women most likely to have risky sex.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: During the course of the study, participants in the intervention received weekly text messages asking about risky behavior during the previous week. The texts also gave feedback personalized to each young woman and helped the women set goals to avoid risky behavior during the upcoming week. Participants in the control group, on the other hand, only received welcome messages and weekly reminders to look out for the Web-based followup at the end of the program.

In the end, 39 percent of the participants completed the entire 12-week program and both the group receiving the intervention and the control group showed an increase in condom use. Despite the similarity in results between the two groups, the researchers observed some changes in the intervention group not seen in the control group. For example, 29 percent of participants who set themselves the goal of not to having another risky sexual encounter had a repeat encounter. All of the young women who didn't set such a goal ended up having another risky encounter.

Young adults have high rates of STDs, and they often use emergency departments for care, the researchers say. That makes an emergency department “a unique venue to screen young adults for at-risk behavior and intervene to reduce future risk.” The authors say that their approach of using text messaging could easily be integrated into standard practice in emergency departments. 

Additional references: We've written about text message programs promoting young people’s health in "Bright Idea: Texting for Teen Health."

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB, or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

Primary Sources: Bringing Stability Into the Lives of Young Women May Prevent Sexual Risk Behaviors

Life Experiences of Instability and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among High-Risk Adolescent Females” (abstract). Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Vol. 45, No. 2 (June 2013).

What it’s about: The authors wanted to know whether young people who grew up in unstable or chaotic homes were more likely to become pregnant or get sexually transmitted infections. With the help of two school-based clinics and two community clinics in Minneapolis and St. Paul, researchers studied 241 sexually active adolescent girls who were at high risk for pregnancy and STIs.

Why read it: Earlier research shows that understanding the reasons for young people’s sexual behavior is crucial to helping them avoid pregnancy and STIs. It also indicates that certain types of behaviors and environmental factors, such as using substances or being from an unstable family, may make it more likely that adolescents will take sexual risks. The authors wanted to know which of these factors were most dangerous for youth in terms of pregnancy and STIs.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: The researchers looked at "individual risks"--such as substance use, violence perpetration, violence victimization and having witnessed violence--and at "family risks"--such as family disconnection, poor family communication and perceived lack of safety at home. The researchers compared these factors to the likelihood that young women in the study would use condoms at six months follow-up.

The individual risks did not influence whether the young women used condoms consistently, but they were associated with having multiple sex partners. Youth who were disengaged from their families used condoms less consistently than others in the study. Both individual and family risk factors were linked to youth using condoms inconsistently and having multiple sex partners. But the authors say that protective social influences have a stronger impact on consistent condom use than the presence or absence of risky behaviors.

Having a stable family environment, the authors say, makes it more likely that young people will develop social and emotional skills that enable them to, for example, effectively negotiate condom use with a partner. The authors say youth services programs that take into account the whole family, not just an individual young person, may help prevent teen pregnancy and STIs.

Additional references:

"Adolescent Health Services: Missing Opportunities," by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, suggests that health systems for adolescents should incorporate prevention and health promotion services. In "Primary Sources: Could Protecting Boys From Sexual Abuse Also Prevent Teen Pregnancy?" we looked at a study that found young men who had experienced sexual abuse were more likely to have gotten someone pregnant.

Q&A: Researcher Natasha Slesnick on Evidence-Based Treatments for Homeless Youth

What works to help homeless youth deal with the issues that contribute to their homelessness, like family conflict and substance abuse? Natasha Slesnick, professor at The Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology, Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, and director of a drop-in center for homeless youth ages 14 to 24, is getting to the bottom of that question.

She and her colleagues recently published or are working on several papers that look at whether a handful of “evidence-based treatments” work for youth in different types of programs, from drop-in centers to short- and long-term shelters to street outreach programs. We asked Slesnick about her work and what it means for the people who provide services to homeless youth.

NCFY: Why did you pick these evidence-based treatments [Ecologically-Based Family Therapy, Functional Family Therapy, Motivational Enhancement Therapy, Community Reinforcement Approach, and case management]?

Slesnick: They are some of the most highly evidenced interventions for adolescents in general, but there was not much research specifically on their effectiveness with a homeless youth population. Family therapies are also some of the most evidenced approaches because so many of the issues youth are facing are rooted in family dynamics. But because the family is not always available when working with street kids from drop-in centers, we did not have much information on the effectiveness of family therapies with these homeless youth. We compared the home-based EBFT with clinic-based FFT in earlier trials, and both did well. We did find that going into the home is a little better – you are more likely to get families to participate if you go to them than if you require them to come into the office.

NCFY: What do you most want youth workers to know about what you are finding out?

Slesnick: Sometimes people think there is one best approach, but in reality there are multiple ways to get to positive outcomes. What we are finding is all the interventions did really well, as long as there is good treatment fidelity (meaning you are actually doing what you say you are doing), training, and supervision. Having a manual helps because manualized treatments tend to do better than those without set guidelines. Usually the treatments aren’t hard to learn, and some are more cost-effective than others. If you have fewer staff, you might want to use Motivational Enhancement Therapy because it works in just two sessions.

Determining which evidence-based treatment is right for a particular program depends on the population you are working with. Shelter-based programs probably want to use family-based treatments, such as Ecologically-Based Family Therapy and Functional Family Therapy. But if they are not able to do that, since family therapies tend to be more expensive than individual, the more brief and cost-effective interventions, Motivational Enhancement Therapy and Community Reinforcement Approach (which has an optional family involvement component), worked just as well in domains such as substance abuse, even though they were not as effective at improving family relationships and outcomes.

Even for shelter-residing kids, there may be cases where there’s not a lot of family support, so family therapies might not be viable, and something like Motivational Enhancement Therapy might be better. For kids with cognitive deficits, Motivational Enhancement Therapy is probably better than the Community Reinforcement Approach, which is a cognitive intervention, highly focused on developing alternative behaviors and communicating better with parents and other adults.

It’s important to do assessments with youth to see what individual, developmental, and environmental strengths and resources they have, and then pick an intervention or combination of interventions that will fit with a particular youth. 

Primary Sources: What Puts Some Former Foster Youth at Risk of Becoming Homeless?

“Homelessness During the Transition from Foster Care to Adulthood” (abstract).  American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 103, No. S2 (December 2013).

What it’s about: Researchers Amy Dworsky, Laura Napolitano and Mark Courtney wanted to build on Dworsky and Courtney’s earlier research about what puts some foster youth at higher risk than others for experiencing homelessness after they leave the child welfare system. Their analysis used data from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth, which followed a group of youth from Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois from 2002 to 2012. During this period the youth were between the ages of 16 and 26.

Why read it: Young people who have been in foster care are 3 to 10 times more likely than their peers to experience homelessness. This research aims to pinpoint what makes some foster youth more at risk of becoming homeless than others. Based on their findings, the researchers recommend ways we might prevent homelessness among foster youth transitioning to independence.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: The researchers estimate that 31 to 46 percent of the youth in their study had experienced homelessness at some point. Like previous studies, this one found that youth were more at risk of homelessness if they had run away while in foster care, had gone through frequent changes in placement, or had suffered from mental health problems. Youth who had been physically abused as children were more likely to become homeless than youth who had not. And boys were more likely than girls.

The researchers made four recommendations for how child welfare agencies can reduce homelessness during the transition from foster care to adulthood:

  1. During transition planning for youth aging out of foster care, pay special attention to the needs of youth who had frequent placements, were abused, or have mental health problems.
  2. Help youth save money while they are still in foster care, so they can afford to live on their own after they leave.
  3. Strengthen family ties, as the study found tentative evidence that close relationships with family members reduced the relative likelihood of a youth becoming homeless.
  4. Extend foster care to a young person’s 21st birthday, in states where this is not already the case.

Additional references: A full report on the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth is available from Chapin Hall, a research and policy center at the University of Chicago.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB, or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

#NCFYchat on Youth Development Brings Youth Workers, Experts to the 'Twitter Table'

On November 21, more than 80 youth workers and advocates came together for NCFY's Twitter chat on “Building Social and Emotional Skills to Promote Youth Well-Being.” Participants joined the 45-minute conversation, co-hosted by YMCA of the USA, to share their thoughts on the skills and experiences youth need to pursue college and careers. The Twitter format also allowed experts like Karen Pittman, founder of The Forum for Youth Investment, and national mentoring organization Big Brothers Big Sisters to share resources for engaging youth in their futures and measuring program outcomes.

Couldn't make it to last month's event? Then check out some of the top Tweets below. You can also read the full text of the chat by logging into Twitter and searching for #NCFYchat.

On how emotional and social skills can support young people in different areas of their lives:

On the role of caring adults in helping youth prepare for college and careers:

On youth-serving organizations working together to help young people prepare for their futures:

Bright Idea: A Pet-Friendly Domestic Violence Shelter Lets Survivors Keep Their Four-Legged Friends

When victims of domestic violence consider fleeing an abusive partner, they often fear for the lives of pets who might have to be left behind. At Family Assistance Program in Victorville, CA, that’s not a barrier to seeking shelter. Survivors can bring their cats and dogs with them.

“Domestic violence is about control and abuse,” says Executive Director Darryl Evey. “What better way to control and abuse a woman than to abuse the pet she loves. Abusers will use the pets as leverage against women. It’s important to take that leverage away.”

The organization used a $5,000 grant from Petco Foundation, the giving arm of the national pet store chain, to remake its space four years ago. Now there’s a dog run in the yard, as well as waterproof flooring and doggy doors in two of the domestic violence shelter’s five rooms. The shelter’s intake process includes asking women whether they have pets they want to bring along. Women who bring their pets sign a waiver absolving Family Assistance Program from liability if the pet bites or injures another resident or if the pet escapes or is harmed. Non-pet-owning residents also sign the waiver, which informs them that there are pets at the shelter and asks them to agree not to hold Family Assistance Program liable if they or their families are bit.

No one's been bit yet, Evey says, and allergies have not turned out to be a problem either. Pets must be kept out of common areas, and residents cannot acquire new pets while living at the shelter.

Evey says nearby animal-related nonprofits and businesses, such as rescue groups, dog clubs and veterinarians, gladly donate pet food, collars, toys and even pro bono veterinary treatment.

In return, Evey says, his organization makes sure to show a strong commitment to animals. Family Assistance Program holds an annual “dog walk” fundraiser for its programs. The local animal groups bring homeless dogs, and 15 to 20 are adopted each year, Evey says.

Become Pet-Friendly

Get advice on how to do it. Housing animals in victims’ rooms isn’t the only way to help protect and shelter the pets of domestic violence victims. The “Sheltering Animals & Families Together Safe-T Program Start-Up Manual” (PDF, 8MB) offers several options and detailed guidelines.

Apply for funding. RedRover, an organization that aims to get pets out of crisis, offers grants to organizations and to victims. The American Kennel Club Humane Fund also offers grants to domestic violence shelters.

Find safe places. Even if your organization cannot take in victims’ pets, you can help survivors find safe housing for their animals. Safe Place for Pets is a searchable online database of domestic violence and animal-related organizations that may be able to house pets in domestic violence situations.

Q&A: Nathan Belyeu of The Trevor Project on Supporting Youth as They Come Out

Research shows that more young people are choosing to come out in their teen years than in the past, but not all are met with loving arms. Family and youth workers can empower adolescents to make informed, thoughtful decisions about their coming out process with the help of "Coming Out as You!", a pocket-sized resource from The Trevor Project. Since its founding in 1998, The Trevor Project has provided crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth ages 13 to 24.

NCFY spoke with Nathan Belyeu, The Trevor Project's education director, about how family and youth workers can support LGBTQ young people during the process of coming out.

NCFY: Why did you decide to develop a guide specifically for young people considering whether or not to come out?

Belyeu: At The Trevor Project, we know that the coming out process is a particularly sensitive time. We like to look at it not as a one-time event. It’s something people do many times and in many places. Part of the coming out experience is understanding that.

Our model is really about empowering youth and giving them control over their coming out experience. This may include processing whether or not it’s the right time to come out and thinking through resources in the community if things do not go well with their families. For adolescents, those problem-solving skills are not present developmentally. A lot of these young people need tools to help them, and service providers need tools to help facilitate those conversations.

NCFY: How do you see family and youth workers using this resource?

Belyeu: I see “Coming Out as You!” as a great tool for one-on-one work. It’s designed in several ways like a workbook. It helps youth problem-solve and ask questions about support, consequences of coming out, and who to talk to if it doesn’t go well.

The guide can also help service providers talk about self-care as a challenge. What do you do to take care of yourself emotionally? There’s a foldout constellation for listing the pros and cons of coming out at a particular time, and a list of personal self-care strategies. It’s there to help young people visually map their own experience, and [as a service provider] you’re helping them think through that information.

NCFY: What if a young person isn’t ready to have that conversation yet?

Belyeu: Many of the youth that service providers encounter are in the stage of thinking about coming out and figuring out who they are. If you have tools like this visible in your office space, it can be a subtle cue that they have that conversation with you. LGBTQ youth are constantly scanning their environment, ascertaining if it’s a safe place or not. Those subtle cues--you should not underestimate their value. For LGBTQ youth that have experienced trauma, those cues are even more important. 


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