Preventing abuse before it begins
Youth education is a crucial part of primary prevention.
By: Allison Fortin, NHM Youth Educator & Advocate, Hillary Waterman, NHM Community Prevention Educator, and Lori Loftin, NHM Education and Outreach Director
A key component of New Hope Midcoast’s mission is to provide educational resources that help our communities create a safer and healthier future. Through prevention and education programs, we strive to deepen the general public’s understanding of domestic abuse, dating violence and stalking. These issues impact more than survivors. They are social justice and public health issues that impact individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole. That means to end abuse, we need to work to end all forms of oppression. We need to challenge the cultural beliefs that foster them, and we need to engage the full community to do so.
New Hope Midcoast’s prevention and education programming has several goals. First, to identify and address the root causes of abuse. Second, to identify and challenge cultural messages about relationships that enable or excuse abusive behavior. Third, to challenge the culture of shame and silence around abuse and violence and empower survivors to connect with resources. To accomplish these goals, New Hope’s educators offer prevention and education programming in schools and through professional training. The team also conducts community outreach and presentations.
Youth education is a crucial part of primary prevention - seeking to stop violence before it occurs. Youth educators at New Hope Midcoast build relationships with area schools and facilitate educational presentations with students in all grades. Programming delivers content through a trauma-informed and developmentally appropriate lens. Presentations are engaging, interactive and often include art-based projects.
For students in elementary school, lessons cover topics like celebrating differences and how to be a good friend. For middle school students, conversations focus on setting boundaries and peer pressure. In high school classes, lessons expand on definitions and terms introduced in middle school. Students discuss how the media shapes our understanding of relationships and how the messages we internalize are often conflicting. Lessons also create opportunities to talk about gender roles and how bystander intervention can create a safer world for everyone.
With older students who are likely navigating early relationships, lessons start to provide information about teen dating violence and resources that help teens who are experiencing abuse. Adolescence is a crucial time to intervene in shaping understandings of relationships. At this level, lessons discuss power and control in relationships. Youth learn how to build and maintain relationships with a foundation of shared power, fairness, equality, honesty, and accountability.
Youth educators also maintain relationships with teachers and school staff, offering ongoing training and consultation. These presentations help school staff recognize signs of dating abuse and domestic violence. They also invite conversations about how to intervene appropriately in a supportive way for students, all while navigating school policies and procedures around mandated reporting.
New Hope Midcoast strives to coordinate a consistent and helpful response to domestic abuse, dating violence and stalking by providing a range of training opportunities to all who are interested. These trainings vary widely and are customized based on the needs of the audience. One example of training for professionals is Domestic Violence Fundamentals for Mental Healthcare Professionals. This training, provided in collaboration with the Hutchinson Center at the University of Maine, fulfills mental health professionals’ licensure requirements for education about domestic abuse.
Feedback from training participants shows the skill building that takes place in these training: “This training reminded me of the importance of screening for domestic violence, safety planning and providing compassionate, nonjudgmental care. Many of the resources and practical applications will be immediately usable in my practice.”
Another goal of New Hope’s education programs is to meet the needs of community partners and enhance collaboration. By building knowledge and trust with other organizations and providers, New Hope expands its network of support and increases referrals for survivors. This is a crucial part of providing a coordinated community response to domestic abuse.
In addition to these training opportunities, New Hope Midcoast’s Community Educators also help to raise awareness through educational exhibits and presentations to community groups. By remaining visible and active in our communities through educational programming, New Hope works to develop all peoples’ ability to recognize domestic abuse, respond to survivors empathetically, and to refer them to New Hope Midcoast and other community resources for ongoing support.