The Grand Challenge to Stop Family Violence is now the Grand Challenge to Build Healthy Relationships to End Violence

The Stop Family Violence Grand Challenge has included many social work scholars with expertise in child maltreatment and gender-based violence (GBV) who have been actively seeking common ground and shared purpose over the past five years. Those scholars all identify with ending interpersonal violence, although their primary research areas vary across somewhat distinct areas of child maltreatment, family violence, intimate partner violence, and gender-based violence. All have agreed that communicating across these—often siloed—areas is important to developing greater impact on decreasing violence, mirroring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Connecting the Dots training that examines shared risk and protective factors across multiple forms of violence to better prevent violence across the lifespan.

To facilitate this, the GCSW leadership has approved the name change of this Grand Challenge to Build Healthy Relationships to End Violence. We believe this change will facilitate greater integration and engagement of GBV scholars, in particular, who expressed reluctance to continue to use a family violence framework that does not address the significant role of gender, and does not address forms of GBV that are not family-based (i.e., some forms of sexual violence).

Because of these concerns, the Stop Family Violence Grand Challenge leadership determined it was necessary to address underlying philosophical and theoretical differences to better include GBV work within the Grand Challenges. In June 2019, social work scholars representing child maltreatment, GBV, and the intersection of child maltreatment and IPV, attended a two-day Community Based System Dynamics (CBSD) workshop at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, where experts led participants through a series of structured CBSD activities to: (1) describe the trends, (2) map underlying systems, and (3) identify generic structures that might capture common risk and protective factors across the spectrum of violence.

One of the key insights focused on the role of relational health and its influence in fostering resilience to violent experiences through safe and supportive people and places. Building healthier relationships can prevent violence and interrupt intergenerational cycles of violence, while reducing the potential impact of violence on individuals, families and communities. The group agreed on the necessity of renaming the Grand Challenge to represent violence more broadly, account for shared risk and protective factors, acknowledge that oppression creates vulnerability to violence and trauma, and promote resilience to experiences of violence across and within generations.

Changing the Grand Challenge to focus on strengthening relationships and to incorporate all interpersonal violence has a number of conceptual and strategic advantages. Just a few are offered, here. Gender can be examined in more nuanced ways; a lifespan approach encourages innovative and inclusive intervention development; the focus on relationships can help us to get away from coercive interventions that divide families in ways that are not necessary to increase safety; increase consistency with the Veteran’s Administration’s approach; and reduce stigma through this strengths-based approach.

We hope you will join with us to Build Healthy Relationship to End Violence.

Grand Challenges for Social Work Invites You to Go•Grander!