UNC-CH School of Social Work receives grant to prevent violence

October 31, 2000

CHAPEL HILL -- Is it possible to prevent youth violence before it starts?

Experts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Jordan Institute for Families hope to find out.

The institute, part of the UNC-CH School of Social Work, has received $872,167 from the National Institutes of Health for a project called "Making Choices: A Social Development Program for Children" as part of a national effort to reduce violence among children and adolescents.

Drs. Mark Fraser, Tate distinguished professor for children in need; Maeda Galinsky, Kenan distinguished professor; and Paul Smokowski, assistant professor, all of the school, are developing the program. A collaborative project with Chatham County public schools, "Making Choices," is designed to strengthen children's social skills.

"The program focuses on peer relationships, on the skills children need - but are rarely taught - for making friends and working cooperatively with other children in small groups," Fraser said.

He and colleagues believe that the roots of school shootings and other forms of youth violence lie in early aggressive behavior, peer rejection, school failure and alienation. The grant will support implementation and testing of a prevention program for children at North Chatham Elementary School and Siler City Elementary School. A mix of black, white and Latino children has evolved there creating a culturally diverse community affected by suburban development from the north that is encroaching on area farm land.

Researchers will work with third-grade teachers, school counselors and social workers to promote social development by teaching children to resolve conflicts peacefully and make enduring friendships in multicultural peer groups. In the third year of the grant, a family-centered program called "Strong Families," also developed by the research group, will augment the "Making Choices" program. The "Strong Families program" has been designed to strengthen ties between children's homes and their schools by boosting children's communications and problem-solving skills.

Findings from preliminary studies of the efforts suggest that they help children build skills in working with peers, teachers, parents and others.

"The programs appear to reduce the peer rejection, alienation and aggression that can sour school experiences for children and lead to academic and behavioral problems," said Fraser.

The grant extends work that the researchers have done with the state and Winston-Salem's Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, in which they developed strong ties with Dr. Larry Mabe, superintendent of Chatham County Public Schools and Susan Eckblad and Randy Johnson, principals of North Chatham Elementary School and Siler City Elementary School, respectively.

Project staff include Steven Day, evaluation coordinator; Martica Bacallao, clinical supervisor; and Vanessa Hodges, associate professor. The project has begun with planning that involves parents and teachers in focus groups. For the next two years, the "Making Choices" and "Strong Families" programs will be used at the elementary schools.

"We believe that intervention focusing on children, parents, teachers and the culture of the school offers the best chance for helping children learn to solve problems and act proactively rather than to react out of frustration or anger," said Smokowski.
-end-
Note: Fraser can be reached at (919) 962-6538.

School of Social Work contact: Mary Beth Hernandez,(919) 962-6469

News Services contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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