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Educational program addresses dating violence
By Katie Murray / January 14, 2019 /   Loading Disqus...

The Rhode Island Foundation’s most recent support for KBEP’s school programs was through the Newport County Fund which is accepting applications for funding support through February 15.

The Katie Brown Educational Program (KBEP) promotes respectful relationships by teaching relationship violence prevention. The organization is committed to providing young people with age-appropriate education to help students build and maintain healthy dating relationships, and also understands the importance of ongoing education for adults. To this end, KBEP offers learning opportunities for many ages – for adults and parents navigating healthier relationships for themselves and to support their children, for college-age students, and directly for youth and teens. It is this last group that has been the primary focus of KBEP since its founding in 2001.  More than 85,000 students in grades 4 through 12 in schools in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts have participated in the Katie Brown Educational Program since 2001.

The team of eight, including five educators, is committing to understanding and measuring the program’s impact in the communities it serves. For 13 years KBEP has implemented pre- and post-surveys to all students who participate in the program. Surveys are short – just 15 questions for children in 4th grade and 17 questions for those in 12th grade – and designed to capture changes in attitudes and understanding while also helping KBEP leaders and educators refine the program and curriculum.

As is to be expected when an organization takes on learning and evaluation activities, the survey process and instruments evolve over time. In 2011, the organization contracted a local researcher with expertise in survey development to critically review and redesign the surveys. KBEP’s Executive Director Claire Spaulding-McVicker notes that, “this has helped to more accurately and efficiently capture the information that KBEP needs to document impact, understand learning, and modify content and delivery.”

KBEP also benefits from pro bono statistical assistance from an independent researcher. Each summer researchers help analyze the more than 6,000 surveys collected during the year.  “As a result we are able to provide schools with evaluation/data reports each year.  This helps schools understand the difference the program is making in terms of increasing knowledge and challenging ingrained, unhealthy attitudes related to dating/peer relationships and violence,” states Spaulding-McVicker.

In 2013, KBEP was able to take their learning and evaluation activities one step further with a randomized control trial (RCT) study of the curriculum conducted by researchers from Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center. The study included 225 10th grade students with a recent dating history. The students were divided into two groups – 86 students participated in the five-day KBEP curriculum (active treatment group) and 139 took their usual health class during the same time period (waitlist control group). Pre and post survey results between the two groups were compared to determine whether the program impacted knowledge and attitudes around relationship violence, as well as exposure to relationship violence as either a victim or a perpetrator. The post results were collected immediately after the curriculum ended and three months later.

Most students had a history of relationship violence – 91.8% of students reported being the victim of at least one instance of threatening behavior, relational aggression, emotion/verbal or physical domestic violence by a partner in the three months preceding the study and 92.0% reported at least one instance of perpetrating threats or violence. Following the KBEP program, victimization and perpetration rates declined. Healthier attitudes and knowledge increased. These findings were published in 2016 in the Journal of School Health with the following results summary:  

After completing the program, students in the active condition reported significantly lower approval of aggression, healthier data attitudes and more [dating violence] knowledge. These effects were sustained at three-month follow-up. In addition, students in the active condition reported significantly less emotional/verbal and total [dating violence] perpetration and victimization at three-month follow-up. 

Source: Joppa MC, Rizzo CJ, Nieves AV, Brown LK. Pilot Investigation of the Katie Brown Educational Program: a school-community partnership. Journal of School Health. 2016; 86: 288-297.

One significant finding from the research is the promise of KBEP’s brief and widely-disseminated curriculum. As a serious public health problem, addressing dating violence has become more of a priority in many locations:  leaders recognize the importance of schools in helping to educate youth about healthy dating relationships, yet many schools lack the resources to include dating violence prevention in their health curricula. This study is critical for the KBEP organization because it provides additional evidence that KBEP’s curriculum are both cost- and time-efficient.

Since findings were released Spaulding-McVicker noted that the study has helped their supporters understand the actual impact KBEP has within schools. She also noted “It has also helped to secure some additional funding, as funders are always looking for evidence of behavioral change”

The study identified opportunities for program changes and future study. For example, this study only included students in one school with three-month tracking. Authors recommend an expanded study to include more schools and over a longer-time period. Additionally, students who indicated that they had perpetrated violence on the baseline assessment were less likely to complete the follow-up assessments. An important implication is that future studies better retain perpetrators to better understand long-term change and to avoid underestimating the problem.

Opportunities for program expansion and learning that resulted from the study include developing tailored programming for boys versus girls, and for students who have a history of dating violence perpetration or victimization.  “The research study also prompted us to revise our training manuals to include more detailed information on legal definitions and laws,” said Spaulding-McVicker.  “We revise and update our curricula every summer to ensure the language is up to date and includes any new uses of technology or social media.  We spend a lot of time addressing technology and social media, and the particular ways young people are using it perpetrate violence.”


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