An innovative approach to working with adolescent family violence in DuPage County, Illinois

Continuing the series of guest blogs, I am pleased to bring you this from Amanda Holt, information about a service in Illinois for families experiencing adolescent family violence. I was particularly thrilled to hear from Amanda, as I have been contacted a number of times by people in the States asking for pointers and guidance in developing or accessing help. News of the screening tool is very welcome, and I was also very interested in the understanding that girls are coming from different circumstances, with separate needs. Finally, the first responder aspect is one which can hopefully feed in to similar discussions taking place in the UK at present. Please do check out all the links; there is a lot of information here and it will take a while to digest it all, but it brings a new interpretation to the table which many will find helpful I think. Thank you Amanda!


This month marks the tenth anniversary that North East DuPage Family and Youth Services (NEDFYS) (in Illinois, US) ran its first adolescent family violence programme, based on principles from the Step-up programme that was developed by Greg Routt and Lily Anderson in King County, Washington State in 1997. Since that time, 170 families have completed all 21-week sessions and graduated successfully: of these, only 11 (6%) were rearrested for a new offence related to family violence within 12 months after graduation. The programme itself is a collaborative effort between the Juvenile Court Judges, the States Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s office, Northeast DuPage Family and Youth Services and Probation and it emerged from a Models For Change four-year grant that DuPage County received from the MacArthur Foundation beginning in 2006.

Last year I had the privilege of visiting the team in Illinois and observing their innovative work. I was struck by their dedication and commitment to the cause, and also by their extensive knowledge of adolescent family violence and their thirst to keep on learning and develop new ways of working. For example, frustrated that court involvement and detention was not helpful in dealing with cases of adolescent family violence (where there were high rates of re-arrest), the team developed the first screening tool (that I’m aware of) to help them appropriately respond to its different contexts. Published in 2015, the Adolescent Domestic Battery Typology Tool (ADBTT) represents the culmination of a five-year project where the team, with the assistance of research consultants from the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), reviewed 150 case files from which they developed a set of typologies, which were then subject to a large pilot validation study (details of the development process can be found in the ADBTT manual here, and also here). The ADBTT helps the team to identify who should be diverted from the court, what the level of supervision should be, and what (if any) the out-of-home placement needs are. For each of the ‘types’, safety planning, trauma-informed practices, and family therapy principles that work with the family system as a whole are at the centre of the intervention work. Of course, the tool is not a replacement for thoughtful consideration of each unique family and its needs, but it does offer a useful additional resource for practitioners who need to make difficult decisions about how to support the different families that they encounter.

A second innovation is the Girls Gaining and Growing Project, which specifically looks at developing a treatment protocol for girls who are violent towards family members. The team identified that the girls on their programmes were experiencing incredibly high levels of trauma (in 90%+ of cases) and they found that this was often generational: many of their parents (particularly mothers) were also scoring highly in the pre-programme trauma screening. The team also found some interesting gender differences in the contexts of adolescent family violence – for example, the ‘escalating’ type was very rare in girls, compared with boys. In response, the team developed a specific trauma-informed, gender-responsive intervention for adolescent girls who use violence towards family members. While the programme uses some modified versions of existing interventions, others are original. The team now always screen for trauma-related symptoms (the programme workers use the Trauma Recovery Scale (TRS) prior to any intervention work as they find it so helpful in informing their practice. 

The team have also recently developed a First Responder Protocol for those, particularly the police, who arrive at a crisis situation involving adolescent family violence and require guidance as to how to respond appropriately. Included in their protocol is: i) clear definitions to help first responders identify the violence, ii) a recommendation for the use of a ‘designated’ juvenile police officer to respond appropriately, and iii) a reminder of the importance of applying a developmentally-appropriate, trauma-informed and gender-responsive approach when responding to such families. 

I’m very much looking forward to hearing what the NEDFYS team does next.

For further information, please contact Viv Odell, Associate Director, NEDFYS. Email:


I very much welcome contributions to this website, and look forward to publishing material from other people engaged in this important work.

1 Comment

Filed under Discussion, projects, publications

One response to “An innovative approach to working with adolescent family violence in DuPage County, Illinois

  1. This is a really inspiring piece, thank you

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