Case study: Preventing youth violence
Child Trends’ groundbreaking study, Preventing Violence: A Review of Research, Evaluation, Gaps, and Opportunities, was a collaboration with the nonprofit organization Futures Without Violence, which works directly with communities to reduce violence. Futures asked us to research and document the causes of a wide range of violent behaviors throughout the United States.
Published in 2014, the report was a major contribution to the research literature and knowledge base around violence, identifying a small number of common factors associated with youth violence and intervention strategies to address these factors. In addition, our researchers argued that violence must be seen in the context of communities and culture, and so efforts to reduce it must take those contexts into account as well.
Funding for Preventing Violence was provided through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Child Trends researchers began by establishing a definition of “violence” together with Futures:
“The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”
They then performed a months-long, comprehensive review of available research on violence, as well as all available evaluation studies of programs that work to prevent it. From this uniquely wide-ranging body of information, our researchers identified nine common types of violence:
- Child Maltreatment
- Gang Violence
- Intimate Partner Violence
- Sexual Violence
- General Aggression
They also established a list of 22 common causes of violence—ranging from gun availability to unplanned pregnancy, parental mental health and school climate—and created a “map” that identified which types of violence were correlated to the different causes. [Chart on page iii of full report.]
This approach highlighted that no violence exists in a vacuum. Parental behavior, school cultures, and family physical and parent mental health can all be powerful predictors of violent behavior. To that end, our researchers recommended that violence prevention efforts should address these risk factors. Even programs that are not geared toward “violence prevention” per se can be helpful if they address these underlying causes.
Beyond the full-length report and shorter executive summary, Child Trends promoted the findings to audiences of youth workers and policymakers. Senior Scholar (and lead author) Kristin Anderson Moore presented the results at the 2015 Defending Childhood conference and at a congressional briefing sponsored by the National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives.
“Child Trends was a great partner. Often when practitioners or advocates work with researchers, there can be an imbalance of who ‘knows’ if something is true. Researchers have the data and a neutrality, and practitioners have a lot of opinion and often little data! Our partnership with Child Trends demonstrated a respectful balance. We met all the time on the phone and talked through everything over the course of a year. Our team found that Child Trends researchers really valued the discussions we had. I think that if we had not had this partnership, the report would have looked different—but with it, it’s become an important touchstone for our work with children going forward.”
— Lonna Davis, Director, Children and Youth, Futures Without Violence