Evaluation of the Start Strong Initiative: Preventing Teen Dating Violence and Promoting Healthy Relationships among Middle School Students

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Abstract

Purpose This study reports on an independent evaluation of Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships, a multicomponent initiative targeting 11- to 14-year-olds. "Start Strong" was designed to focus on the developmental needs of middle school students and to enhance skills and attitudes consistent with promotion of healthy relationships and reduction of teen dating violence (TDV). Methods The quasi-experimental evaluation design included data collection from four Start Strong schools and four comparison schools. Student surveys were collected at four waves of data at the beginning and the end of grades 7 and 8. Multilevel models used repeated observations nested within students who were, in turn, nested within schools to determine whether participation in Start Strong enhanced healthy skills and relationships and decreased TDV-related attitudes and behaviors. Results Short-term effects from waves 1 to 2 were statistically significant for increased parent-child communication and boy/girlfriend relationship satisfaction and support and decreased gender stereotypes and attitudes supporting TDV. Findings for acceptance of TDV and gender stereotypes persisted longitudinally. Conclusions Results are promising and illustrate that a multicomponent, community-based initiative reduced risk factors predictive of TDV. Start Strong is innovative in its focus on early adolescence, which is a critical period in the transition to dating. The results inform future intervention efforts and underscore the need for further study of middle school students.

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Miller, S., Williams, J., Cutbush, S., Gibbs, D., Clinton-Sherrod, M., & Jones, S. (2015). Evaluation of the Start Strong Initiative: Preventing Teen Dating Violence and Promoting Healthy Relationships among Middle School Students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 56(2), S14–S19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.11.003

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