In the Public Interest

This year marks the 10th anniversary of APA’s ACT — Adults and Children Together — Against Violence, now known as the ACT Raising Safe Kids program. The program promotes violence-prevention strategies that focus on early childhood and the roles of adults and communities. ACT has grown to international status through its success in strengthening families, teaching positive parenting techniques and emphasizing community involvement as critical ways of creating safe, nurturing and healthy environments that protect children and adolescents from violence.

APA has a long history of promoting psychologists’ work to address the causes and impact of all types of violence. ACT is administered through the APA Violence Prevention Office housed within the Public Interest Directorate, and is the culmination of several anti-violence programs and initiatives we have supported over the years.

The notion of violence as behavior learned primarily in childhood shaped the development of the program’s design. Using the categories outlined in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publication Best Practices of Youth Violence Prevention (Thornton, Craft, Dahlberg, Lynch, 2000), and social learning theory, ACT is based on research showing that violence is caused in part by people lacking the skills and resources to deal with anger and conflicts and that children learn by observing and imitating others around them. Repeatedly, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finds that children are more likely to be victims of violence committed by their own parents. Therefore, it is crucial to teach parents and caregivers the skills they need to ensure safe environments for children.

In 2004, the CDC funded evaluation studies of ACT that found that the program offered a successful model for disseminating and teaching early violence prevention and skills to adults. In 2005, APA expanded and redesigned the program to create what is now ACT Raising Safe Kids, an eight-week program in English and Spanish for parents and caregivers from all backgrounds. The program has been implemented in communities in 20 states and Puerto Rico, including Latino communities through partnerships with community- and faith-based organizations, schools, hospitals and agencies. Professionals and others who work with families and children are trained at the program’s five regional training centers to deliver the curriculum. A strong emphasis is placed on the importance of cultural competence. The research-based curriculum addresses basics of child development; roots and consequences of violence in the lives of children; parenting skills and discipline strategies; and media literacy.

Last fall, a three-year study on ACT conducted by a research team from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte found that the program led to a significant decline in parents’ use of harsh discipline, increased their nurturing behavior, helped them control anger and increased their use of positive discipline strategies.

ACT is continuing to expand. From 2006 to 2010, the five ACT Regional Centers trained almost 7,500 professionals, and nearly 6,000 parents participated in the program. Through an agreement with APA, the ACT program is now being implemented in Greece, Colombia and Peru, and will soon be in Cyprus and Brazil.

Professionals value the evidence-based program, the research-based curriculum, the high-quality materials and the connections with APA and a national network of colleagues. Parents praise the program as being nonjudgmental, fun, friendly and helpful. Parents who have participated in the program have said things such as, “I learned to put on my children’s shoes,” “I never thought that how, even when we aren’t yelling at our kids, they hear us yelling at each other, we are exposing them to violence,” and “I now understand the effect a parent can make on a child.”

We are very proud of ACT’s accomplishments and look forward to many more years of disseminating psychological knowledge and skills to help adults, children and communities build safe and strong families that are violence-free.