How We’re Working to End Teen Dating Violence
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, dedicated to providing resources and promoting respectful relationships for all young people. The Texas Foster Youth Health Initiative (TFYHI) works toward this goal by helping youth in foster care feel connected, safe, and empowered to make informed decisions about their sexual health and relationships.
How do experiences prior to and in foster care impact young people’s relationships?
Many youth in foster care have experienced trauma before coming into care. They may not have a model for healthy relationships and may believe that healthy relationships are a fairy tale rather than a real possibility. Young people with these experiences may not believe they are worthy of healthy connection, or be able to trust their own instincts about what they deserve in a relationship.
Youth in foster care also experience disruptions to their connections with family, supportive adults and community. This may have impacted their ability to ask questions about topics like dating, sex, and identity with trusted adults. Rather than having opportunities to form strong connections with supportive peers and adults, youth in care are often forced to figure things out on their own and develop a sense of hyper-independence.
“I’m so independent and I don’t like to rely on other people or ask people for help. No matter how deep I am in trouble. So I think in a way that kind of hindered me from relationships, like even friend relationships, where I won’t lean on anyone and I won’t depend on anyone.”
— Alumna of foster care
What is THRIVE?
TFYHI’s youth curriculum, THRIVE: Empowered Conversations About Sexual Health and Relationships, provides inclusive, trauma-informed sex education for youth. The TFYHI team designed THRIVE to meet the specific needs and concerns of young people in foster care.
The 10-hour curriculum focuses on walking youth in care through practicing strategies for healthy communication and consent, making decisions about sexual health and contraception, and accessing sexual and reproductive health care.
How does THRIVE approach healthy relationships?
The curriculum focuses on building skills for healthy, communicative relationships with partners, peers, and caregivers, and provides opportunities for youth to learn how to advocate for themselves and others.
THRIVE includes content and activities that allow participants to build skills around identifying feelings, communicating, navigating boundaries, and practicing consent. THRIVE activities and discussions allow participants to interact in both large and small groups, practice communication and relationship skills, and learn together and from each other. Facilitators play an important role in modeling positive relationships skills, respect, and shared power.
THRIVE seeks to affirm a positive sense of self for all participants by including representation of diverse sexual and gender identities. Activities are designed to connect youth to their histories, communities, and values. Facilitators create an environment where young people can share, learn, and ask questions without feeling judged or shamed.
What do we hear from THRIVE participants and supportive adults?
Youth and young adult participants shared that participating in THRIVE built their knowledge and changed their perspectives on what a healthy relationship could look like.
“Since I’ve been coming to this class, I’ve been more aware of the things coming out of my mouth, and my boundaries. What I’m going to tolerate and not tolerate.”
“I didn’t believe I would soak in as much as I did. I know now what signs to look for in a healthy and unhealthy relationship, because ultimately I need to take care of myself.”
“I thought I was good at relationship stuff before, but these classes have helped me catch my own yellow flags. I’ve grown a lot.”
In addition to positive feedback from youth, staff at child welfare agencies across Texas that hosted THRIVE shared that the program helped them bond and connect with youth. Staff noted that youth who participated felt more comfortable to ask questions and engage in dialogue about healthy relationships and sexual health.
“For staff attending the THRIVE program together with youth was a bonding experience. Youth opened up to staff and talked a lot about healthy relationships.”
–Staff at child welfare host agency
“When we were transporting the youth, I would ask each of them to tell me something they learned. Instead of one thing I got ten things, and we talked about it for the whole 45 minute drive.”
–Staff at child welfare host agency