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Program Profile: Youth Relationships Project

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on May 16, 2016

Program Summary

This was a community-based prevention program that targeted youths who were at risk of becoming involved in abusive relationships. The goals of the program were to increase youths’ awareness of the signs of an abusive relationship and teach them how to develop healthy, non-abusive relationships with dating partners. The program was rated Promising. The program was shown to significantly reduce abuse perpetration and victimization over time.

Program Description

Program Goals
The Youth Relationships Project was a prevention program that targeted youths who were at risk of becoming involved in abusive relationships. The program took a health promotion approach to prevent violence in adolescent-dating relationships. The goals of the program were to increase youths’ awareness of the signs of an abusive relationship and teach them how to develop healthy, non-abusive relationships with dating partners.  

Target Population/Eligibility

To be eligible for the Youth Relationships Project, participants must have been between the ages of 14 and 16 years old and have a history of maltreatment. Youths were not eligible if they required intensive mental health services, had been convicted of crimes against persons, and/or were developmentally delayed. Youths were usually referred to the program by a Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworker. The program targeted mid-adolescence, which was seen as the ideal intervention period for dating violence, as it is a critical point between childhood maltreatment experiences and unhealthy, violent dating relationships in adulthood.  

Program Activities

The Youth Relationships Project consisted of 18 sessions that focused on teaching youths how to avoid unhealthy, abusive relationships by encouraging them to make informed choices and communicate effectively. The curriculum was divided into three main areas:
  • Education and awareness of abuse and power dynamics in close relationships. During these sessions, youths were taught about a variety of abusive behaviors (e.g., woman abuse, homophobia, racism, sexual harassment), with emphasis placed on the power dynamics in heterosexual relationships. They also learned about the responsibilities associated with “personal power” and how privilege impacts dating behaviors.
  • Skills development. These sessions explored how societal influences and myths can perpetuate incorrect assumptions and beliefs about interpersonal violence. There was also discussion about the options that are available to avoid abusive situations and the strategies that teens can implement to solve conflicts in healthy, non-violent ways.
  • Social action. This last session aimed to inform youths of the community resources that were available to them if they were in unfamiliar or troublesome dating situations. It also attempted to reduce the stigma that surrounds receiving help from social service agencies (such as police or welfare departments) by including activities that increase youths’ comfort with approaching these organizations. Further, there was an empowerment component to this session, which required youths to engage in a community service project that promoted awareness about dating violence.

The sessions were 2 hours each, coeductional, and consisted of approximately 6–10 participants per group. Group sessions were held in a community setting rather than in school. Each session was guided by an intervention manual and led by two co-facilitators (one male and one female), who modeled a healthy relationship. The program was interactive and included guest speakers, videos, behavior rehearsal, visits to community agencies, and a social action project in the community.  

Key Personnel

Program facilitators included social workers and community professionals who had experience with youth or persons who commit domestic violence. Facilitators attended a 10-hour, 2-day training seminar that covered the goals and philosophies of the program and provided strategies on how to handle conflicts that may arise with participants. The training seminar also allowed the facilitators to practice implementing the exercises in the manual.  

Program Theory

The Youth Relationships Project was based on the premise that youths who have histories of maltreatment are more likely to experience aggression, hostility, and diminished problem-solving efficacy in both their peer and romantic relationships (Wolfe et al. 1998; Wolfe et al. 2001). Adolescents with histories of maltreatment may also have internalized domineering and controlling tendencies that can manifest in close relationships (Murphy and Blumenthal 2000). These behaviors may perpetuate an intergenerational cycle of violence, in which maltreated youths are more likely to both perpetrate violence and experience victimization in intimate relationships than their non-maltreated counterparts (Murphy and Blumenthal 2000).

Similarly, theories surrounding interpersonal aggression in romantic relationships emphasize how distorted expectations and deficits in communication/problem-solving skills can lead individuals to justify abusive dating behaviors (Holtzworth-Munroe 1992). Thus, methods of non-violent communication and problem-solving skills were taught during the program to reduce instances of abuse in early romantic relationships.


A critical component of the Youth Relationships Project was that it builds upon skill- and learning-based approaches, as well as feminist theories, to increase youths’ awareness about gender-based violence and power roles. With this knowledge, youths had a better understanding of the societal influences surrounding dating violence, increased competency and skills to build healthy relationships and respond to abusive behaviors, and involvement with community efforts against partner abuse (DePrince et al. 2013).

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Abuse Perpetration
Wolfe and colleagues (2003) found that participants in the Youth Relationships Project treatment group were significantly less likely than participants in the control group to engage in physical abuse perpetration.
 
Threatening Behavior Perpetration
There were no significant differences between the treatment and control groups on threatening behavior perpetration. 
 
Emotional Abuse Victimization
Participants in the treatment group were significantly less likely than participants in the control group to experience emotional abuse victimization.
 
Threatening Behavior Victimization
Similarly, participants in the treatment group were significantly less likely than participants in the control group to experience threatening behavior victimization.
 
Trauma Symptoms
The program had a significant impact on measures of trauma symptoms. Participants in the treatment group showed a steeper decline in trauma symptoms, compared with the control group participants. 
 
Hostility
There were no significant differences between the treatment and control groups on measures of hostility.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Wolfe and colleagues (2003) used random assignment and longitudinal follow up to determine if participation in the Youth Relationships Project would decrease youths’ levels of abuse perpetration, victimization, and emotional distress in their relationships. Program sessions took place in a community setting, such as at youth centers. 
 
Participants (n=158) were youths between the ages of 14–16 years old who were at risk for engaging in abusive relationships (i.e., had a history of maltreatment). Researchers recruited participants from Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies to participate in the program, mainly because their histories of maltreatment increased their risk for experiencing dating violence. Youths were not eligible if they required intensive mental health services, on the basis of a caseworker’s report or intake findings, had been convicted of crimes against persons, and/or were developmentally delayed. Of the 319 youths referred to the study, 191 were eligible to participate. Participants were on average 15 years old, from lower-income families, and almost all had begun dating. Over half of the sample lived outside of the family home, while the rest lived with one or more biological or adoptive parents. About half of the youths’ mothers recorded their occupations as unemployed or unskilled; the other half identified as being in a skilled or professional occupation. Participants in the study sample were 85 percent white, 8 percent First Nations (Native American), 4 percent African Canadian, and 3 percent Asian.
  
In the treatment group (n=96), girls comprised slightly more than half of the sample (52 percent). The treatment group received the complete 4-month, 18-session program, based on the lesson plan outlined in the Youth Relationships Project manual. In the control group (n=62), girls comprised a little less than half of the sample (47 percent). The control group received standard CPS services, including bimonthly visits from a social worker and the provision of basic shelter and care. There were no significant differences at baseline between the treatment group and control group, except for maltreatment history and emotional abuse perpetration. Specifically, the treatment group experienced higher levels of maltreatment than the control group, whereas the control group reported perpetrating more emotional abuse against dating partners than the treatment group. To control for these differences, maltreatment history and emotional abuse were added as covariates in the final analyses. 
 
Baseline data was collected during an initial interview, including family demographics, background, and other support or mental health services received. Participants completed assessment measures at baseline and after the 4-month intervention/control period. Participants were called bimonthly and asked whether they were involved in a dating relationship for 1 month or longer. If they were involved in a dating relationship for 1 month or longer, they completed questionnaires regarding their relationships and instances of abuse perpetration and victimization. Face-to-face interviews were scheduled every 6 months to measure outcome variables. 
 
Abuse perpetration and victimization were assessed using the Conflict in Adolescent Dating Relationships Inventory (CADRI), a 70-item measure that asks teens to reference an actual conflict with a current or recent dating partner over the past 2 months. Emotional distress was measured based on the Trauma Symptom Checklist-40 (TSC-40), a 40-item instrument that determines the impact of child abuse and other psychological trauma on emotional and behavioral adjustment. Growth curve analyses were used to determine the impact of the program on each outcome variable.
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Cost

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The manual for the Youth Relationships Project program is available through SAGE Publishing for $118 (see Implementation Information for a link to the Web site).
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Implementation Information

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Training is no longer available for the original version of the Youth Relationships Project (YRP). However, the program manual can still be purchased through the SAGE Publishing Web site: https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/the-youth-relationships-manual/book5559.
 
YRP has been updated and revised as The Healthy Relationships Plus Program (HRPP). For more information about the updated program and program resources, visit https://youthrelationships.org/hrpp.
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Other Information

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Wolfe and colleagues (2003) found that girls in the Youth Relationships Project treatment group did better than boys in the treatment group on some of the outcome measures. For example, on the measures regarding abuse perpetration, girls were more likely to show a decrease in physical abuse perpetration, compared with boys. Girls also showed greater reductions in threatening behaviors over time compared with boys. With regards to victimization measures, girls reported higher levels of emotional abuse victimization, and showed a steeper decline of this measure over time than boys. However, reductions in reports of physical abuse victimization were the same for boys and girls.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Wolfe, David A., Christine Wekerle, Katreena Scott, Anna-Lee Straatman, Carolyn Grasley, and Deborah Reitzel-Jaffe. 2003. “Dating Violence Prevention With At-Risk Youth: A Controlled Outcome Evaluation.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 71(2):279–91.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

DePrince, Anne P., Ann T. Chu, Jennifer Labus, Stephen R. Shirk, and Cathryn Potter. 2013. “Preventing Revictimization in Teen Dating Relationships.” Technical Report (Grant #: 2009-MU-MU-0025). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.

Holtzworth-Munroe, Amy. 1992. “Social Skills Deficits in Violent Men: Interpreting the Data Using a Social Information Processing Model.” Clinical Psychology Review 12(6):605–17.

Murphy, Christopher M., and Deborah R. Blumenthal. 2000. “The Mediating Influence of Interpersonal Problems on the Intergenerational Transmission of Relationship Aggression.” Personal Relationships 7(2):203–18.

Wolfe, David A., Christine Wekerle, Deborah Reitzel-Jaffe, and Lorrie Lefebvre. 1998. “Factors Associated With Abusive Relationships Among Maltreated and Nonmaltreated Youth.” Development and Psychopathology 10(1):61–85.

Wolfe, David A., Christine Wekerle, Robert Gough, Deborah Reitzel-Jaffe, Carolyn Grasley, Anna-Lee Pittman, Lorraine Lefebvre, and Jennifer Stumpf. 1996. Youth Relationships Manual: A Group Approach With Adolescents For the Prevention of Woman Abuse and the Promotion of Healthy Relationships. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Wolfe, David A., Katreena Scott, Christine Wekerle, and Anna-Lee Pittman. 2001. “Child Maltreatment: Risk of Adjustment Problems and Dating Violence in Adolescence.” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 40(3):282–98.
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Related Practices

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:

School-Based Interventions to Reduce Dating and Sexual Violence
This practice includes universal-level prevention and intervention programs in schools that aim to reduce or prevent teen dating violence perpetration and victimization. The practice is rated Effective for reducing perpetration of teen dating violence and improving dating violence knowledge and attitudes. The practice is rated No Effects for reducing teen dating violence victimization.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Violent offenses
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Attitudes & Beliefs - Teen Dating Violence Knowledge
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Attitudes & Beliefs - Teen Dating Violence Attitudes
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Victimization - Domestic/intimate partner/family violence
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Program Snapshot

Age: 14 - 16

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, American Indians/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, White, Other

Geography: Rural, Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting

Program Type: Conflict Resolution/Interpersonal Skills, Leadership and Youth Development, Children Exposed to Violence, Violence Prevention

Targeted Population: Victims of Crime, Children Exposed to Violence

Current Program Status: Not Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide

Program Developer:
David Wolfe
Professor, Faculty of Education
Western University
1137 Western Rd.
London, Ontario N6G 1G7
Phone: 519.871.7289
Website
Email

Training and TA Provider:
Raymond Hughes
National Education Coordinator
Western University, Centre for School Mental Health
1137 Western Rd.
London, Ontario N6G 1G7
Phone: 519.661.2111 ext: 89245
Website
Email