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New Grant to Increase Bystander Intervention

You’re at the store and you see a parent hit and scream at her child.  Should you intervene? 

Research shows that most people would look the other way.  In fact, experts don’t yet know the best way to handle these types of situations. 

A two-year grant to Saint Louis University (SLU) from Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH) will help find answers. Safe Connections will partner with Family Resource Center, Cardinal Glennon and SLU to create a bystander intervention training program. “We’ve all been there. A two-year-old is kicking and screaming in the middle of the grocery store and Mom reacts with a temper.  Dad is in a hurry, forcefully tugging his child down the street,” said Nancy Weaver, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral health and health education at Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice and principal investigator for the project.

The $341,000 grant from MFH will fund a two-year pilot project that creates and examines the effectiveness of a training program for bystanders that offers strategies on how to intervene and guidance on when to turn to authorities if they see children being treated severely.  A social media marketing campaign that reinforces messages during training and bolsters approaches for bystander interventions will accompany the training.

“Since 1988, Safe Connections has been a leader in prevention education. We talk about healthy relationships, sexual assault and bystander intervention, among many other topics,” said Safe Connections Executive Director, Susan Kidder, “It’s time to educate and empower people on how to intervene safely in what they perceive is a dangerous or unhealthy situation. We are thrilled to collaborate with Family Resource Center and SLU to create a universal bystander intervention training program.”

A total of 40 employees at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and affiliates of the Family Resource Center and Safe Connections will receive the initial training, which will be guided by principles developed during fact-finding focus groups and adapted from a successful sexual violence intervention approach, and part of Safe Connections’ current curriculum. So, the initial focus is on training professionals who are frequently witnessing or overseeing waiting room or patient treatment room settings.

Each of the 40 employees will train 10 others, expanding the network of those who are equipped to address child mistreatment. They will learn to identify parenting behaviors that pose a threat to the child, connect with parents in a comfortable and non-threatening way to de-escalate the situation in a way that doesn’t jeopardize their own or the child’s well-being, and share available resources to help parents who are overwhelmed.

“There are ways to diffuse the situation. It could be something as simple as saying, ‘It looks like you’re struggling. Going to the grocery store can be a real challenge with a toddler. Can I grab your diaper bag so you don’t have to juggle that,’” Weaver said “You have to understand why people parent the way they do. Parents have different philosophies about using physical punishment to discipline a child who misbehaves and different values about parenting that are shaped by personal experience and community context.  Our goal is to get bystanders to take action, and give them confidence they don’t have to watch in silence as children are being mistreated.”

Child mistreatment is a significant problem. A recent study shows that more than a third of U.S. children are the subject of an investigation for abuse or neglect before they turn 18. MFH is a resource for the region, working with communities and nonprofits to generate and accelerate positive changes in health. As a catalyst for change, MFH improves the health of Missourians through a combination of partnership, experience, knowledge and funding.