State and Nonprofit Partners Unveil Groundbreaking Resource to Address Youth Relationship Abuse

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(July 13, 2021) - National research found that domestic violence significantly increased during the pandemic lockdown. Data also show that abusive behaviors can and do start before adulthood -- particularly in the teen years leading into young adulthood. In fact, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, 1 in 10 Colorado high schoolers reported being physically hurt on purpose by someone they were dating in 2019.

Violence Free Colorado and various state agencies collaborated with nonprofit partners and individuals to develop a new set of guidelines to work with youth ages 10-17 who engage in relationship abuse, also known as teen dating violence or intimate partner violence. This toolkit addresses a critical gap in services for youth by offering information and guidance to professionals who work in education, mental health, and juvenile justice and could provide treatment to this population. 

Unlike adult domestic violence offenders, there is no mandate for someone to be approved through the Colorado Domestic Violence Offender Management Board to work with youth who commit abusive, harmful, and/or illegal acts toward a dating partner, and there are no guidelines for the treatment of this population. Additionally, research shows the neurobiology of the adolescent brain is different from adults, and therefore treatment for young people must reflect that to be successful. As a result, these new guidelines are designed to offer best practices and recommendations to providers offering evaluation and treatment services to youth who engage in relationship abuse. 

“Intervention in and prevention of relationship abuse in youth is critical at the early stages of adolescent development, both to stop immediate harm and to stem the progression of violence. However, there are limited prevention, intervention, and treatment options for youth who engage in relationship violence,” said Ellen Stein Wallace, Advisor to Violence Free Colorado and Partner at Johnson & Wallace Consulting.

“Our vision is to create capacity and resources for these youth to receive services at any point in time by a statewide network of qualified evaluation and treatment service providers; our hope is that awareness and early treatment intervention will help teens mature in healthy and non-abusive relationships as they enter adulthood,” said Jesse Hansen, Program Coordinator of the Colorado Office of Domestic Violence Offender Management Board, which is housed in the Colorado Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Justice. “The long-term goal is to reduce the likelihood that someone will go on to harm other victims, commit more serious crimes and enter the criminal justice system.” 

Violence Free Colorado and the Domestic Violence Offender Management Board convened a multidisciplinary group of professionals from the Colorado Division of Youth Services, Colorado School Safety Resource Center, private treatment practices, violence prevention services, and more to develop the guidelines.

“Abusive relationships among youth have far-reaching consequences, including reduced school attendance, increased likelihood of risky sexual behavior, substance abuse, eating disorders, suicide,  physical or sexual violence, and adult revictimization,” said Margaret Ochoa, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Specialist with the Colorado School Safety Resource Center. “We hope this resource will help schools raise awareness of warning signs of relationship abuse and connect them with options to make referrals to treatment providers when they do identify concerns.”

"This toolkit gives professionals much-needed guidance to navigate the complex needs and dynamics of youth who engage in relationship abuse and ensures core issues are addressed in treatment," said Carl Blake, Sex Offense Specific and Assessment Services Coordinator with the Colorado Division of Youth Services.

Learn more about the Best Practice Guidelines for Working with Youth Who Engage in Relationship Abuse.