Leveraging collaboration to end domestic violence

Carolyn Wang Kong

Historically, when it comes to being program staff at our Foundation, you’re either a “health” person or a “domestic violence” person. And, for all of my career, I’ve been a “health” person. But as the lead for our Collaborating for Healthy Communities initiative, I was excited to “cross-over” and explore how collaboration could advance and integrate these two worlds. I quickly learned that if I thought health was complex, the field of domestic violence prevention was even more complex.

As we shared recently during domestic violence awareness month in October, domestic violence impacts the health and well-being of not just those who are harmed or the harm-doers. It impacts whole families, sometimes for generations, as children exposed to violence carry trauma that affects their health and opportunities for a lifetime. And, when we consider that there are over 9 million California children, one in five of whom will witness domestic violence at some point, this is not a private matter, but a community matter.

This past year, the Foundation has pivoted its focus to break the cycle of violence by uncovering and interrupting the drivers of violence. We have supported research that clearly points to both structural drivers of domestic violence, such as inequitable distribution of power, money, opportunity, resources and community determinants, such as harmful norms, damaged social networks, harmful media, housing instability, and economic insecurity. The complexity and number of drivers of domestic violence make it clear that it’s not up to one sector alone to break the cycle of violence. Instead, it will require that those who have influence over the risk factors and drivers take an active role to change the policies, systems and practices that aggravate these risk factors in our communities.

That’s why this past fall, the Foundation released a request for proposals, “Leveraging Collaboration to End Domestic Violence”, designed to engage multiple sectors in the movement to prevent domestic violence. Through this opportunity, the Foundation aimed to:

  • Better understand how collaboration can more effectively address complex issues like domestic violence;
  • Learn what it takes to convince other sectors to engage around an issue that is still often considered “private” but has a profound impact on multiple parts of a community; and
  • Build an evidence base for collaboration as a promising approach to preventing domestic violence.

The response to the offering was both exciting and humbling. We received proposals from across the state, proposals that offered bold thinking on how to engage different sectors alongside the domestic violence sector, to develop community driven solutions. Applicants included long-standing Foundation grantee partners as well as many new organizations, eager to collaborate around prevention.

In the end, the Foundation selected six multisector collaboratives that range in maturity, geographic focus, and approach. But what they all share is a diverse and committed membership, an authentic commitment to community and a bold vision to make lasting change that will break the cycle of violence in their communities. Their priorities range from changing deeply held cultural norms that enable gender inequity and violence within the Hmong community of central California to leveraging workforce development programs to build strong and safe families in San Francisco’s Bayview district. Other awarded collaboratives in Contra Costa and Sacramento counties will shift historically criminal justice focused approaches to more of a prevention focus, lifting up protective factors and using community voices to inform policy and practice changes on housing, health, and economic stability, which are key drivers to domestic violence prevention. In San Diego, the San Ysidro Domestic Violence Prevention Collaborative will leverage a strong track record of community and civic engagement to advocate for changes to community conditions that negatively impact health and domestic violence. And lastly, in the far northern region of California, a coalition of five county collaboratives will come together to strengthen regional policy change to support prevention through a lens of adverse childhood experiences—the stressful childhood experiences that are linked to many adult health problems.

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, the success of a complex collaboration is less about the framework we use and more, about the people, their vision, their leadership and their commitment to one another. The selected cohort of six collaboratives are well on their way to having these critical pieces in place. Over the course of these two-year grants, divided into planning and implementation phases, grantees will receive technical assistance on a range of topics including systems change, data, evaluation, and more. Collaboratives will also participate in shared learning within their cohort and alongside other Foundation-funded collaboratives such as the Safety Through Connection initiative, managed by Prevention Institute.

We recognize that domestic violence prevention is not simple (or else we would have solved it by now), but we believe that ambitious change is possible when sectors collaborate with communities to work on the issues that have been prioritized by impacted individuals and families. And, we believe that, of all issues to apply multisector collaboration, domestic violence prevention is ripe for this approach. Through this cohort, we will build our collective knowledge on how this approach can break the cycle of violence. More importantly, we are engaging a host of new sectors, systems, organizations, leaders and communities in seeing the role they all play in prevention. And who knows? Maybe we’ll further blur those lines between “health” people and “domestic violence” people.

Learn more about the Foundation's newly funded projects.

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