Anti-violence initiative attacks root causes of aggression

February 1, 2016


Halfway into a decadelong United Against Violence Initiative, launched by Catholic Health Initiatives in 2010, the Englewood, Colo.-based hospital system is highlighting a series of measurable successes in a recently released 20-page report.

The report features outcomes of six of the CHI-funded programs underway, and many are dramatic.

A police officer gets to know boys at a National Night Out event in the Westway neighborhood in Federal Way, Wash. CHI Franciscan Health co-sponsored the event as part of its anti-violence initiatives.

In regions around the country, violence prevention initiatives, undertaken by CHI regional systems and others, working with hundreds of community partners, point to such positive outcomes as substantial reductions in risky and violent behaviors by youth and adults. Other outcomes include empowerment of isolated and vulnerable immigrant women, fewer incidences of child abuse and neglect, more juveniles in classrooms and fewer in courts, and passage of a comprehensive anti-trafficking bill in Kentucky.

"It's really so inspiring," said Sr. Peggy Ann Martin, OP, CHI's senior vice president, sponsorship and governance. "Many small steps are leading to big steps that are making it happen. This is something everyone at CHI can get their heads and hearts around."

Aimed at building healthier communities through collaboration and culture change, the United Against Violence Initiative is a key target for CHI's Mission and Ministry Fund grants from 2010 to 2020. In most of CHI's market areas, programs are well underway, and several already have exceeded their 10-year goals and are expanding in new directions or to new areas. A few programs are still in development.

So far, CHI has given more than $15 million total for programs in each of its market areas, with grants to 50 recipients ranging from $14,000 to $891,000.

At the outset of the initiative five years ago, CHI, in consultation with the Oakland, Calif.-based Prevention Institute, determined to attack primary causes of violence. The Prevention Institute is a national organization that promotes health and safety in communities around the country.

Faced with horrifying statistics on the toll of violence in the United States (more than 50,000 people die each year of violence-related injuries), CHI leaders reasoned: It's good to treat a victim; it's better to prevent the crime. Could violence-related injuries and deaths be reduced or eliminated by attacking primary causes of violence rather than interventions at a later stage — similar to measures, such as vaccines, developed by the medical professions to stamp out other life-threatening diseases?

A community member cleans playground signage as part of the Westway Action Day in Federal Way, Wash. Members of several churches and community groups, and residents of the Westway neighborhood pitched in to tidy up parks and other public areas during the community-building event sponsored by CHI Franciscan Health as part of its anti-violence efforts.

To this end, CHI charged each of its market areas with designing and implementing a violence reduction initiative in collaboration with other leaders and organizations in their communities. The initiatives were to be aimed at solutions to specific community problems known to result in violence. Each market area was to determine the outcome measure for its specific community, monitor progress and evaluate results.

A further goal was to ensure that by 2020 all projects would be sustainable — adopted and integrated into communities and able to continue without support from the Mission and Ministry Fund.

Annie Lyles, project manager for the Prevention Institute, said CHI's initiative is different from those of other health care organizations because of the methodical, evidence-based, multipronged way CHI has approached the work. (See sidebar.) Although other health care organizations are looking at violence as a primary cause of poor health outcomes in communities, "CHI is ahead of the others," Lyles said. The way CHI has organized in support of prevention and approached the problem systematically "is really an innovation," Lyles said.

Sr. Martin praised Lyles and the Prevention Institute for their role in showing CHI how to proceed systematically and to keep learning from others engaged in the work, as well as from the beneficiaries of the programs. Lyles participates in mandatory annual conferences for grantees; and grant recipients exchange information, challenges and successes among themselves by phone in regularly scheduled, ongoing "learning labs," Sr. Martin said.

"This is not a single initiative," Sr. Martin stressed. It's a long-term commitment for CHI and "a lifelong effort for all of us," she said.

"Everyone in the world will have to be united against violence" if we are ever to become "a peaceful people," she said.

The report is available at Click on "Catholic Health Initiatives Five Year Progress Report" under the "Violence Prevention Resources" headline.

Prevention Institute offers blueprint for violence reduction

In a 28-page resource guide intended as a road map for CHI grant recipients under the health care system's United Against Violence Initiative, CHI draws on knowledge acquired from its work with the Oakland, Calif.-based Prevention Institute.

The institute's six-pronged "spectrum of prevention," developed by founder and Executive Director Larry Cohen, demonstrates that successful and sustainable anti-violence strategies must include education and community involvement.

Grant recipients were encouraged from the outset of the 10-year campaign to include each of the six steps set forth by the Prevention Institute in their regional and local initiatives.

The steps are:

  • Enhancing individuals' ability to promote safety and prevent injury
  • Promoting community education
  • Educating teachers and others who are in a position to prevent violence on how to promote nonviolent behaviors and transmit that skill and knowledge to others
  • Fostering coalitions and networks, especially among grassroots and community-based organizations and government sectors
  • Changing organizational practices by working with groups to shape new norms
  • Influencing policy and legislation with strategies that target influential groups, such as governments and schools

The CHI guide also promotes eight action steps for projects undertaken by grantees: identify and involve key stakeholders; assess needs and assets in the community; identify focus area of violence and establish baselines; define goals and objectives; develop an action plan; do the work; monitor, measure, modify; and communicate the results.


CHI spotlights successful efforts at the midpoint of its anti-violence initiatives

Among some 43 regional violence prevention efforts underway under the United Against Violence Initiative, here are some of the successes highlighted in CHI's recently released progress report:

A program at CHI Franciscan Health in Tacoma, Wash., that focuses on reducing school suspensions and expulsions for risky and violent behaviors (substance use, fighting or bullying) reports a decrease of 28 percent in two years in one targeted school district and 74 percent in four years in another. Both decreases significantly exceed original goals. A three-year implementation grant of $467,000 pays for two full-time Franciscan Health employees who work in violence prevention: one, Doug Baxter, oversees the work; the other, Jennifer Cox, works with school administrators. Neither Baxter nor Cox deliver programs, Baxter said, but rather — in the interest of the sustainability — they serve as the outside community resource the schools can turn to; and they help organize other community partners.

Children enjoy an art activity during a summer camp at Shepherd's Corner in Blacklick, Ohio, a farm that is a ministry of the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The children live at a trailer park that has experienced reduced violence as a result of several violence prevention programs the sisters have put in place there, including the camp.

"We have great community partners, so we have created several coalitions and give small grants to smaller projects," said Baxter, who is violence prevention coordinator at Franciscan Health. Further, Franciscan Health is one of three violence prevention programs highlighted in the five-year report to work with school districts to integrate Second Step, a classroom-based violence prevention curriculum for children 4 to 14. The Franciscan Health initiative is also responsible for a new soccer field and is working to provide safe walking and biking trails — all aimed at building healthier communities for families.

In Nebraska City, Neb., and surrounding Otoe County, CHI Health St. Mary's reports that instances of physical aggression or "attacking to harm" in the area identified under the grant have been reduced by 63 percent in four years; incidents of school violence have decreased by 74 percent; and juvenile arrests for assault have decreased by 51 percent. Further, participation in extracurricular activities, including numerous new activities added under the grant program, have increased by 51 percent. These results demonstrate widespread community engagement, according to Traci Reuter, healthy communities coordinator for St. Mary's.

Materials promoting violence prevention have reached nearly 9,000 households. St. Mary's, in conjunction with the Otoe County Community Coalition, has saturated the community with messages such as "Anger is Normal, Violence is Not" — via yard signs, wristbands, teacher notepads, school banners, billboards and the like. "We're really trying to change to a culture of nonviolence," Reuter said. She noted that effort, which includes introducing the Second Step curriculum into area schools, has led to a much greater public awareness of violence that had been happening under the radar. The effort also has encouraged the partners to look deeply at the root causes of violence.

In Columbus, Ohio, the Dominican Sisters of Peace and the Franklin County Coalition have put major efforts into improving life for Latinos living in a drug-plagued trailer park. The religious congregation, a sponsor of CHI, titled their programs under their $443,790 grant, "Dare to Live in Peace." A survey showed that some 90 percent of the trailer park residents had reported suffering from some form of violence, ranging from criminal behavior with guns (70 percent), to bullying among both youth and adults (80 percent) and domestic abuse. The park's negative reputation had driven the population down, and many of the remaining residents were either engaged in risky or violent activities themselves or were isolated and afraid.

The sisters and their community partners decided to tackle the problem indirectly. To combat low self-esteem that led to victimization from bullies and domestic abusers, the community partners invited the women in the park to Zumba lessons at a nearby community center, followed by talks on health, safety and family issues. Efforts to reduce gun violence focused on programs to empower youth in positive ways. Boys between 13 and 18 were invited to meet with an experienced youth leader, who provided programs on filmmaking, anger management and school success.

The results have been dramatic, according to Lisset Mendoza, grant coordinator. "There were three dealers in the park; all are gone," she said, and some 80 percent of residents report a reduction in experiences of violence. The park is under new management and is far better maintained, thanks to advocacy among the residents. And an atmosphere of trust among residents, and between residents and police, has replaced one of fear, so that residents understand that reporting crimes will not lead to deportation, she said. Further, young people are receiving homework help, learning about careers and exploring applying to colleges — something they never would have considered before, Mendoza said.

The report said the combined effort of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Ky., and the Nelson County Human Trafficking Task Force, resulted in an anti-trafficking House bill in Kentucky that was heralded as one of the most comprehensive laws of its kind in the U.S. when it was passed in 2013.

The report credits anti-violence initiatives by the Mercy Foundation and the Douglas County Community Coalition in Roseburg, Ore., for significant reductions in confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect.

The CHI report praises anti-violence grant recipients Good Samaritan Behavioral Health and the United Against Violence of Greater Dayton coalition in Dayton, Ohio, for achieving reductions in multiple types of violent crimes, ranging from 9 percent to 33 percent, in four targeted neighborhoods in the past three years.


Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.