Feature

More than 150 psychologists and other professionals are bringing a life-saving message to communities nationwide: Prevent violence early.

They're spreading the message through Adults and Children Together (ACT) Against Violence, a national media campaign and train-the-trainer program developed by APA and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). APA's Public Interest Directorate initiated the program in 1996 to bring decades of research on violence and violence prevention to the public.

"The ACT project takes the long view of prevention, starting with the youngest children," says Jacquelyn Gentry, PhD, former director of APA's Public Interest Initiatives. "It is a good example of applying psychological knowledge to enhance parents' and teachers' skills for teaching peaceable ways for children to get along with others."

ACT Against Violence includes:

  • A mass media campaign, developed with the Advertising Council Inc., which ran ACT antiviolence public service announcements for television and radio in March 2001 and ACT print ads for newspapers, magazines and transit displays in 2002. To date, ACT advertisements have earned nearly $50 million in donated media placements.

  • The ACT train-the-trainer workshop, which disseminates information on childhood development, the involvement of children with violence and its consequences, and skills for prevention, such as anger management, social problem-solving, discipline and media literacy.

  • Community training programs, implemented in counties in California, New Jersey, Kansas and New York, which train psychologists and other professionals to conduct ACT workshops.

  • The ACT National Leadership Program, established to meet requests to expand the program. It trains professionals to be ACT senior coordinators who help to spread the program nationally.

The ACT program seeks professionals, including psychologists, early childhood educators, college professors and social workers, connected to family and community groups. These professionals will teach adults who have frequent and influential contact with young children age 8 and under about early violence prevention, says Julia Silva, PhD, project manager for ACT Against Violence.

Professionals selected for ACT training serve as "agents of change, taking an active role in their organizations and communities to integrate the early childhood approach into existing violence prevention efforts," says Silva. "They are expected to reach out to other professionals, disseminating the ACT program messages and materials through workshops, training programs, presentations and special events."

They also use the media and collaborate with other groups to promote the ACT message, she adds. To help meet these expectations, participants receive the ACT manual and booklets and technical assistance from ACT staff. ACT trainers can also charge for conducting workshops to offset costs for materials.

The ACT project has been enthusiastically received by psychologists, early educators and other professionals in numerous communities across the country. "The grassroots enthusiasm for the program is bubbling up all over the nation, and we can hardly keep up with the demands for information and help," Gentry says.

When psychologist Jeff Segal, PsyD, learned about the ACT program through his affiliation with Child & Family Resources in Randolph, N.J., he was eager to get involved. "The ACT program made so much sense to me in terms of my vision of the world--that you have to intervene early" to prevent violent behavior, he says.

Segal was among 11 community activists and professionals from Morris County, N.J., to become ACT trainers in April 2001. Since then, Segal says he has conducted four ACT trainings and a number of companion programs.

"I do a lot of parenting talks to schools and am now in the middle of a four-part series," incorporating ACT materials on anger management, discipline, problem-solving and media literacy, says Segal.

Clinical psychologist David Hayes, PhD, was drawn to the program after learning about it several years ago. The APA Council representative from Ohio participated in the first ACT National Training Program in October 2001. He then recruited his wife Peggy Hayes, a member of NAEYC, to collaborate with him.

"I worked for quite a while in a long-term psychiatric center where I saw the effects of childhood violence on my adult patients each day when I came to work," says Hayes, co-owner of a group psychology practice in Westerville, Ohio. "It seems to me that it's a lot more economical if we address these issues earlier...rather than trying to repair the damage afterward."

Since becoming an ACT trainer, Hayes along with his wife has presented the program to 20 members of the Ohio Psychological Association and done an in-service training for 85 preschool teachers and directors.

Being connected to professional or community organizations is an important aspect of being selected for the ACT program. "ACT-trained professionals will need [institutional] support to organize workshops and presentations, to print materials, to make phone calls, to contact others in the community, for postage, etc.," says Silva.

Another ACT trainer, psychologist Helene Feldman, PhD, is lining up ACT workshops for 2003. Feldman, president of the Foundation of the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, was an early supporter of the ACT program through the foundation. She participated in the ACT National Training Program last fall and will conduct her first ACT workshop--for continuing-education credit--at the California Psychological Association's annual convention in San Jose in April.

"My first career was as a teacher, so I've always been interested in issues related to children," says Feldman. "I'm enthusiastic about the training because it targets a critical concern in our society," says the clinical psychologist, who is also on the board of a center for children and mothers victimized by domestic violence.

In addition, Feldman is organizing an ACT workshop on Sept. 13 in Los Angeles to commemorate the second anniversary of 9/11. "I was so surprised at the intensity of the first anniversary response," she says, "that this seemed like a very appropriate time to offer a program on violence prevention."

Further Reading

For more information on ACT Against Violence, contact Julia Silva at the APA address; e-mail: e-mail; (202) 336-5817. Or visit the ACT Web site: www.ACTAgainstViolence.org.