A PREVENT Case Study from the American Humane Association
What does it mean to be humane? According to the American Humane Association
, “It’s an innate desire to protect our children, or compassion to care for an animal in need.” Since 1877, American Humane has worked to protect these two vulnerable groups, children and animals, in their efforts to create a more humane and compassionate world.
The Children’s Division at American Humane aims to be a national leader, working to “prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect”. In recent decades, their efforts have focused mostly on working with public child welfare agencies across the nation to improve their ability to protect children—working on the “respond to” part of their mission. Their efforts in professional education, training, advocacy, research, and evaluation around child welfare have made them a recognized national leader in this area. Their efforts around the “prevent” part of their mission have been important, but more limited. A group of staff members from the Children’s Division and the organization’s Office of Public Policy decided to see what it would take to increase their impact on child abuse prevention. Already a national leader in child welfare, what would it take to also become recognized as a leader in child abuse prevention? They attended the PREVENT Institute and quickly learned that their first step in becoming a national leader had to start internally with their own staff. They wanted to re-invigorate their work in prevention by getting everyone in the Children’s Division, and ultimately at American Humane, “on the same page” about what primary prevention of child abuse is and how to incorporate it into current efforts.
How do you help a national organization fulfill a focus that has been underdeveloped? The team decided to start with a training initiative within their own division. They developed a curriculum, based largely on the curriculum in their own PREVENT training. They held a 3-hour session on child abuse prevention and the development of a Prevention Initiative at American Humane. The training presented a public health orientation to prevention, differentiated primary prevention from secondary and tertiary, and shared tools for thinking about events that occur before, during and after an allegation of abuse or neglect. It was attended by 30 people, including staff members from the Children’s Division and senior leadership from the organization; participant surveys indicated that staff found the training and tools useful. The team had staff complete pre- and post- training questionnaires which showed that they think about prevention more often, and better understand the difference among kinds of prevention after the training. Staff members of the division also strongly believed that American Humane should pay greater attention to the prevention of child abuse. The training gave the division common language and understanding to be able to “talk the talk” on their continued effort to “walk the walk”.
Notice that staff members encouraged greater attention to child abuse prevention. It was not that American Humane didn’t already have efforts around prevention; they were just not very integrated into the overall work of the organization. The only primary prevention effort prior to the team’s participation in PREVENT was through an initiative called The Front Porch Project®. Our front porches used to be much more than just a place to sit—they were where neighbors came out to see each other, share information, and support each other. This initiative was developed in 1997 to encourage neighbors to take a more active role in each other’s lives and to give citizens the skills to engage with their neighbors, safely intervene on behalf of children when necessary, and provide support for families in their community. As one team member said, the program had gotten a little “dusty”—the Children’s Division hadn’t done much to update it or promote it in a while. The American Humane Association team took the skills and knowledge that they gained in their PREVENT training to revise the curriculum and tools for implementation of The Front Porch Project. They also spread the program to new communities, and expanded its evaluation to create a cross-site evaluation component, allowing American Humane to compare how it is working in different sites around the country. If American Humane wanted to walk their talk of prevention, they already had the shoes to do so in The Front Porch Project. They just needed to get them out, polish them up, and put them on.
Another part of the Prevention Initiative
included a focus on advocacy. One way that the PREVENT experience helped expand this initiative came primarily through the composition of the team itself. PREVENT requires participants to apply as multidisciplinary teams. The American Humane team included staff from the Children’s Division headquartered in Colorado as well as staff from the Public Policy Office in Washington DC. The experience of attending the Institute strengthened the relationship between these two offices which allowed the Public Policy Office to better understand the priorities of the Children’s Division in general and the new priorities being developed around prevention in particular. Team members credit that strengthened relationship with encouraging more active advocacy by American Humane on two pieces of legislation affecting child abuse prevention.
In addition to the internal training, the team coordinated several other educational events for American Humane staff on issues related to the prevention of child abuse (speakers from groups like Prevent Child Abuse America and the Nurse Family Partnership). Sustained attention to the topic started to bear fruit. People within the division began looking for and responding to requests for applications on initiatives with a prevention focus and were able to put together much stronger applications in these areas than in the past.
Prior to PREVENT...the word prevention probably wasn’t used very often. It was something with language in our mission statement but never acted on. We might go after a proposal that had a prevention orientation but it was weak. We had no integrated approach to prevention...I can look at proposals now or RFPs that are out there and I am confident enough in our organization’s capacity to respond to work that asks for a prevention focus. (Team member interview, September 2009)
The team dedicated an issue of American Humane’s quarterly peer review journal, Protecting Children, to public-private partnerships and lessons learned from successful collaborations between public child welfare agencies and prevention agencies. Also, the senior leadership of the division began discussing not only how to fulfill the prevention part of their mission statement, but how to modify it to make prevention have a stronger role.
Six months after the team finished the PREVENT Institute, they had the opportunity to present their initiative to the National Advisory Committee of the Children’s Division. This is a group of national experts on child welfare and child wellbeing who help develop and guide the long term strategic plans for the division. The PREVENT team presented their work done on the Prevention Initiative and outlined the four areas identified for their long term strategic development:
- Improve work with child welfare agencies by incorporating prevention into current programs
- Expand legislative advocacy at the national and state level to incorporate a focus on policies affecting prevention, child wellbeing, and child health
- Continue to serve as an agency that brings groups together nationally, and expand that role to include partnerships working on prevention
- Establish American Humane as a liaison between public child welfare agencies and prevention communities.
Their efforts were strongly supported and encouraged by the committee as promoting the organization’s mission to create a more humane and compassionate world by ending abuse and neglect of children and animals.
PREVENT Institute 2008 American Humane Association Team
- Created organizational change through revitalizing the organization’s work in child abuse prevention
- Held trainings on primary prevention of child abuse for Children’s Division, senior management of organization
- Updated curriculum, implementation tools and evaluation plan for their existing community-based, primary prevention initiative: The Front Porch Project
- Expanded legislative advocacy efforts to include campaigns focused on prevention
- Received support from organizational senior leadership and Children’s Division National Advisory Committee