As a welfare consultant in Carolina, Puerto Rico, psychologist Shiara Francisquini-Oquendo, PsyD, saw child abuse and domestic violence almost daily. To learn ways to curb such violence, she traveled to Miami last October to train to be a facilitator for the Adults and Children Together Against Violence (ACT) Parents Raising Safe Kids program. The violence prevention program, developed by APA and the National Association for the Education of Young Children in 2001, teaches families and communities how to create safe, nonviolent environments for children.
"I wanted to give our low-income families some strategies to better discipline their kids," says Francisquini-Oquendo. "I wanted something that would protect the children from violence and also help the parents set a good example."
Francisquini-Oquendo found what she was looking for through ACT. She learned parenting skills, positive discipline strategies and ways to protect children from media violence that she is now passing on to parents in Puerto Rico through eight weeks of two-hour classes.
Since her training, Francisquini-Oquendo has taught four groups of 25 parents each. Her classes have been a success so far, with graduates returning to speak about how well the parenting strategies work at home and spreading the word in their communities, she says.
"These [parents] feel like they aren't alone in facing the challenges of raising their children in communities with high violence rates," she says.
ACT has also taken off in Greece, where psychologist Pantelis Proios introduced the program in 2007 through a partnership with the Association of Greek Psychologists. He, Aliki Georgakopoulou and two other colleagues trained as facilitators at an ACT workshop in Washington, D.C., then spent months translating ACT's educational materials into Greek. They have since presented dozens of violence prevention seminars to parents, teachers and mental health professionals throughout the country.
"There is constant demand for longer seminars and more seminars," says Proios. "Domestic violence is a very big issue here right now, and so is the effect of media on young children."
In addition to running trainings in Greece, Proios and colleague Artemis Giotsa, PhD, presented ACT's teachings at the International Conference on Psychology in Bulgaria, where colleagues from Italy, Romania and Bulgaria expressed an interest in getting training to be able to teach ACT courses.
Now, ACT is primed to expand to several more countries, says Julia M. Silva, who directs the APA's Violence Prevention Office. Last October, she presented on ACT at a conference in Brazil and psychologists there are now planning to translate the ACT materials into Portuguese and kick-start the program. Meanwhile, Colombian psychologist Maria Clara Cuevas, PhD, of the University of Valle, brought two U.S. ACT experts to Cali to train facilitators in July, and psychologists at the University of San Martín de Porres in Lima, Peru, will begin hosting ACT trainings and parenting groups this year. Psychologists in Cyprus and Guatemala are interested in introducing the violence prevention program in their countries as well, says Silva.
The program appeals to a broad range of cultures because it uses a universal curriculum that is non-judgmental, and is for parents from all backgrounds regardless of their level of risk for maltreatment. In addition, the program is inexpensive and easy to implement, Silva says.
"ACT is not just about child abuse," says Silva. "It's for anyone who wants to learn more about the most effective ways of raising children. We want to help build strong and safe families."
Plus, research shows it works. Last year, an independent evaluation of the program in the United States conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte found that ACT improved parenting skills and reduced the use of harsh verbal and physical discipline.
Families around the globe may soon reap the benefits of ACT, says Silva. "ACT is a universal, much-needed program."
WANT TO LAUNCH A VIOLENCE PREVENTION PROJECT?
The American Psychological Foundation encourages psychologists who study violence to apply for one of its Visionary Grants, which support original psychological research, education and intervention projects on the topic. For more information, go to the Visionary and Drs. Raymond A. and Rosalee G. Weiss Research and Program Innovation Fund Grants Web page.