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Boston Medical Center, MA

Two programs serving caregivers and their young children whose lives have been affected by domestic and community violence came together to develop Project BELONG (Breaking the Cycle of Intergenerational Violence). Project BELONG was a unique psychotherapeutic intervention and training collaboration between Boston Medical Center’s Child Witness to Violence Project (CWVP) and the Supporting Parents and Resilient Kids Center (SPARK) and was designed to reduce the risk of intergenerational transmission of violence through short-term, two-generation, trauma-informed therapy approaches for young children and their caregivers and to disseminate core concepts of these evidence-based interventions to new generations of mental health clinicians, early childhood professionals, and pediatric interns and residents.

The primary therapeutic and psychoeducational goals of Project BELONG were to help improve caregiver-child interactions with a focus on promoting warm, protective, and responsive parenting and help caregivers build healthy and enduring attachments with their child. Our experienced team of mental health clinicians hold that to be optimally effective, efforts to prevent child maltreatment and ultimately break the cycle of violence must target caregivers with their young children together as dyads in the earliest years, when they are forming relationships and may be most open to exploring how to build healthy patterns of interaction and how to deal with their own trauma histories as they inevitably surface in the context of parenting. Likewise, children stand to benefit most strongly from early intervention in the developing caregiver-child relationship, as this essential, primary bond will set the stage for their own later well-being and capacity to form healthy connections with others. 

Core Strategies:

  • Implement and explore two-generation, parent-child therapy interventions that support the parent-child relationship

  • Train new and future mental health professionals in dyadic parent-child therapy approaches

  • Promote multi-generational approaches to break the cycle of relational trauma and violence

Examples of Accomplishments:

  • Developed an intricate and comprehensive clinical research protocol to conduct and evaluate dyadic therapy for an extremely vulnerable adult and child population in an urban medical center

  • Collectively trained (across CWVP and SPARK) twenty-eight (N=28) masters and doctoral-level clinical interns in core competencies of infant mental health and early childhood trauma

  • Conducted over 100 dissemination seminars and workshops with mental health and pediatric interns and residents on the impacts of violence exposure, two-generation dyadic therapeutic approaches, and intimate partner violence and domestic violence violence prevention, screening, and intervention models

  • Presented information and technical exposure to trauma-informed dyadic parenting intervention to over 600 early educators, advocates, child development professionals, and clinical and advocacy audiences

  • Developed a unique training curriculum with supplemental multimedia material, including a “video library” of clips illustrating foundational and core clinical concepts from naturalistic interactions of (non-client) caregiver-child dyads

  • Currently finalizing “Voices from the Field: Surfacing Therapists’ Experience and Techniques with Dyadic Therapy,” a video testimonial compilation of mental health providers who deliver dyadic/two-generation therapy interventions

Examples of Impact on Clinical Trainees:

“One of the most important lessons I learned [through this internship] is that there are many forms of domestic violence and that they are all equally important and must be treated thoughtfully.”

“[Prior to this internship] I was so uninformed about emotional attunement and the power of narration and had little training and understanding of how to engage in dyadic therapy. I was not aware of how useful emotional narration is for children.”

“I have learned the value of attachment and how that determines the entire [caregiver-child] relationship.”

“I loved the concept of ‘serve and return’ – it’s clear and accessible. I feel it captures a unique phenomenon that other attachment models don’t quite articulate.”

“I learned that there are so many valuable benefits to parent-child therapy and resources and opportunities for victims and survivors of domestic violence that I was previously unaware of and will continue to share with clients.”

Project BELONG Partners:  

Boston Medical Center:  

Child Witness to Violence Project:  

The SPARK Center for Families: