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June 2009Vol. 10, No. 5Strong Communities for Children

In the northwest corner of South Carolina, a project focused on strengthening communities in order to prevent child abuse and neglect is having a noticeable impact on community involvement. Strong Communities for Children, funded by the Duke Foundation and implemented through the Clemson University Research Foundation, is a little more than halfway through its 10-year term, but it is already showing many positive outcomes for communities. In 2008, Family & Community Health devoted an entire issue to describing different facets of this long-term project, spotlighting the comprehensive community engagement that has led to improved services and supports for families and children.

Articles in Family & Community Health trace the history of Strong Communities for Children, outline the importance of community-level strategies, describe what community organizations and individuals do, and give examples of transformative change and the importance of volunteerism. By focusing on different facets of the project, the articles also highlight the variety of evaluation techniques used to gather information from a broad, diverse population.

Strong Communities for Children, centered around Greenville, SC, and its surrounding communities, is unusual because it focuses on Greenville's community institutions to build systems of support for families. These institutions include schools, churches, health centers, civic groups, parent organizations, and more. Community outreach workers recruit citizens and institutions, mobilize volunteers, and arrange activities and programs. Young families "enroll" in Strong Communities, most often through a health-care service. Once they join, they receive information and invitations for services (e.g., health-care, financial and career counseling, mental health), family events and activities, and support groups. Embedding the services in the community makes them more accessible to families.

As the articles in Family & Community Health show, it is possible to engage citizens from a wide variety of organizations in strengthening communities. During the first 5 years of Strong Communities, more than 4,500 volunteers have given their time to the project. The greatest engagement has been in the religious and public safety sectors, and the involvement of community gatekeepers is important. Volunteers tend to have a strong sense of neighborliness and community commitment.

Strong Communities for Children is working on an evaluation plan that looks at both process and outcomes. Survey data from volunteers have already documented the size and breadth of community involvement. Researchers hope that outcome studies will also show the increased safety of children whose families are enrolled in Strong Communities. In the meantime, early evidence cited by Project Director Dr. Gary Melton indicates that families enrolled in Strong Communities are more nurturing, more safety-conscious, and less neglectful than similar families in other communities.

To learn more about Strong Communities for Children: