In the Public Interest

What a child learns about violence, a child learns for life. Teach carefully. We can show you how.

The Public Interest (PI) Directorate is the part of APA that uses the science and practice of psychology to promote human welfare-we work to give psychology away. PI's Office on Violence Prevention, directed by Julia da Silva, is one example of how we focus our efforts on this important part of our mission. The office grew out of the directorate's early efforts to examine and address violence and its impact.

More than three million cases of child abuse are reported per year.Preventing violence in children's lives-in fact in all lives-is a critical need.Substantial psychological research is available on the impact and prevention of child abuse as well as other forms of violence.

A community focus

Over the last two decades, the Public Interest Directorate has undertaken numerous initiatives that highlight the contributions of psychological research to the understanding, prevention and treatment of violence across many of the PI constituent populations. Our work has produced reports, policy statements and resolutions, and provided opportunities to collaborate not only with members, but often with other professional associations and a variety of community-based organizations and government agencies.

In the late 1990s, PI redirected its focus on violence information, gearing it not only to APA members and other professionals, national organizations and policy-makers, but also to those who can use it to understand and prevent violence in everyday life-parents, teachers, social service workers and others. To accomplish this redirection, psychological research had to be disseminated in more accessible and consumer-friendly language and formats. In collaboration with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the directorate established the association's first major initiative designed to educate communities about how to change behaviors and attitudes to create environments that protect children from violence: the ACT-Adults and Children Together-Against Violence Program.

One of the first initiatives undertaken was the ACT Media Campaign, launched in April 2001 in collaboration with the APA Public Communications Office and the Advertising Council Inc. The campaign has reached millions around the country with early violence prevention messages through television and radio ads, posters and billboards. Media tracking reports show that as of the end of 2006 the television public service announcement (PSA) had been shown more than 60,000 times reaching more than 55 million households. The radio PSAs were aired more than 200,000 times and 7,000 billboards were distributed nationwide. As a public service, networks and local stations donated the broadcast advertising time, which has an estimated value of more than $67 million. The third radio PSA was launched in 2005 nationwide.

As one of only a few violence-prevention strategies that focuses on early childhood, the ACT program is a national, antiviolence initiative that emphasizes early prevention, community involvement, strengthening families and positive parenting as critical ways to create safe and healthy environments that protect children and youth from violence and discourage other problem behaviors. The program establishes partnerships with local organizations and agencies and trains professionals to conduct an eight-week program for families known as Parents Raising Safe Kids.

ACT employs research findings and knowledge of child development to illuminate how numerous risk factors contribute to the development of aggressive behaviors. Through partnerships with community-based organizations and agencies, professionals and those who work directly with families are trained to further disseminate and train others in these concepts and strategies. Considerable emphasis is placed on the importance of cultural competence.

A success story

The ACT program is now implemented in 35 communities in 18 states. It has trained more than 20,000 professionals and carried its message of early prevention to more than 30,000 parents and other caregivers.

The Parents Raising Safe Kids program has been conducted at child-care centers, prisons, shelters, hospitals, public libraries, adult education centers, churches and schools. Evaluation results show that the program provides participants with knowledge and tools that can help families strengthen their capacities to provide violence-free, healthy environments for their children.

Research shows that early intervention is the best and most cost-effective strategy for violence prevention. Creating safe, stable and nurturing environments is the foundation for healthy development. The ACT program continues to be successful in sharing this message and in using psychology to address this critical societal problem.

Further Reading

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