Committee for Children Blog

The Roots of My Advocacy, Part 2

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This week’s Committee for Children blog post was written by our executive director, Joan Duffell, and is Part 2 of a three-part series.
Joan Duffell
In the mid-1980s, while remaining deeply committed to the Talking About Touching program, Committee for Children began looking into other areas of prevention. We dove into the research literature, asking a key question: “What makes people hurt other people?” We found remarkable consistency in numerous studies, which showed that violent offenders lacked a common set of key social and emotional skills: empathy, impulse control, problem solving, and emotion management.

Under Alice Ray’s leadership, a big idea took shape: If we could teach children these skills in a proactive, structured way in classrooms and homes across the country, we could reduce violence and improve the social competence of children as they grow up. This tapped directly into my beliefs about social justice and nonviolence, as well as my memories of teaching young children who so desperately needed this kind of support.
In 1986 Committee for Children’s Kathy Beland developed the first edition of what has become an internationally acclaimed and widely disseminated program called Second Step: A Violence Prevention Curriculum. I was asked to lead our marketing and community education efforts. I had the support of some of Seattle’s best advertising and communications gurus—“loaned executives” who taught me the ropes—and I picked up useful marketing classes at the University of Washington along the way.

I learned important lessons during those years: it’s not enough to have an important mission or even a terrific program. People need to be motivated to adopt and teach these programs. This took an enormous advocacy effort and major investments in program evaluation years before the concept of “SEL,” or social and emotional learning, was spoken of in education circles.

Part 3 of Joan's blog post will appear on February 18. Tune in next week for a blog entry from Senior Program Developer Bridgid Normand, who tells us about her first experience in creating a bond with a student.