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Support Over Silence for KIDS Highlights Child Abuse Prevention During National Child Abuse Awareness Month

Throughout the month of April, Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice observed National Child Abuse Awareness Month by highlighting faculty, staff, and students who have done work to prevent child abuse in their communities. 

Professor Nancy L. Weaver, Ph.D., MPH, has an extensive background in child abuse prevention and co-directs the Community Engagement Core (CEC) of the Center for Innovation in Child Maltreatment Policy, Research and Training, a partnership between Saint Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis.

Dr. Weaver’s most recent program, Support Over Silence for KIDS, incorporates bystander theory in the prevention of child abuse.

“Bystander theory is the thought that the more people that are around a situation, the less likely any one of those individuals is to help the person in distress,” Weaver said.

The bystander model is most prevalent in sexual assault prevention programs, but Weaver found that it translates well to child abuse prevention. 

“We really try to create a judgment-free space when implementing Support Over Silence for KIDS,” Weaver said. “We want our training participants to understand that there are a lot of ways they can offer support to a parent and child who might be struggling. As bystanders, it’s hard for us to truly understand what a caregiver and their child may be going through at that moment.” 

Weaver has been able to tailor the program for the St. Louis community with the help of several leading public health institutions in the area. SOSFK was created in conjunction with clinicians from Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, FamilyForward, and Safe Connections in St. Louis, Missouri. 

“Our partner organizations really helped us develop a program that resonates with community members and then pilot test the program to make sure we are making a difference. They are very dedicated to the health of families, so the program was a great fit with their missions.” Weaver said.

SOSFK has also offered SLU graduate students the opportunity to apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom to real-world programming. 

Now a third year Ph.D. in Public Health Studies, Meghan Taylor was among the MPH students to join Weaver’s team during the formative research phase for SOSFK and went on to contribute to program development, implementation and evaluation. 

“Helping translate evidence and theory into practice was an invaluable learning experience,” Taylor said. “Now witnessing the program's positive impact in the community...it has been incredibly meaningful.”

With funding from the Missouri Foundation of Health, Weaver and her team were able to conduct high-quality research prior to implementation.

“We designed the program using an innovative public health model and really took our time to learn from community members.” Weaver said. 

“We want to make sure that we are giving the employees who are face-to-face with the caregiver and their children the right tools to be successful in stressful situations,” Weaver said. 

Weaver hopes SOSFK’s success continues for the communities and organizations that implement the program. It is her goal to help create spaces where there is a network of people who really believe they have the skills and the responsibility to support families.

About Support Over Silence for KIDS

Support Over Silence for KIDS is an in-person bystander training program that prepares community members, hospital personnel and other professionals to confidently defuse challenging moments between caregivers and their children in public.

College for Public Health and Social Justice

The Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice is the only academic unit of its kind, studying social, environmental and physical influences that together determine the health and well-being of people and communities. It also is the only accredited school or college of public health among nearly 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States.

Guided by a mission of social justice and focus on finding innovative and collaborative solutions for complex health problems, the College offers nationally recognized programs in public health, social work, health administration, applied behavior analysis, and criminology and criminal justice.