History: How ECCAO© Began
A survey, presented by the Quality Communities Partnership (QCP), was given to the residents in six southwest suburbs of Greater Cleveland in 1996, and found that the primary safety concern was youth violence. Violence is common in today’s culture, in varied areas of life such as media in the forms of video games, cartoons, and music; peers and the school environment; and the home (parents or other caregivers and siblings) Thus, the community asked for help in addressing these problems from psychologist Dr. Michael D. Dwyer who began working in conjunction with QCP on the three-year P.E.A.C.E. project, a youth aggression diversion program. Results from this project showed success only in those whose aggression appeared late in childhood or early adolescence. The intervention did not work for children who began early on to be aggressive. Therefore, an early violence prevention program known as Expanding Children’s Caring About Others (ECCAO) was established in 2003 . The general design of the program includes the training of young children, their parents, teachers, and other involved school staff in anger management and good conflict resolution skills.
ECCAO’s mission is to prevent violent behavior by equipping young children with good interpersonal skills. This program has been implemented in kindergarten classes in area elementary schools, and involves both the school and home environments. For Dr. Dwyer, ECCAO is the culmination of a long-term goal of finding an effective way of improving the mental health of children in our community. He stated that throughout his professional life he has searched for a comprehensive solution to the problem of psychological pain in families, and especially in children. He sees the ECCAO program as having the potential to accomplish this goal. He believes that ECCAO will not only help the children socially, but academically as well. Results of early childhood intervention initiatives show that children with better interpersonal skills typically attain better academic skills as a result. Such initiatives also show less involvement in the juvenile justice system, less need for special education, and medical and social support services. The cost savings per child can range from $10,000 to $47,000 (Greenwood, et al., 1998; Reynolds, 2000; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000; U.S. Dept. Health & Human Services, Youth Violence, 2001).
In addition, ECCAO is designed to improve parent-child relationships by offering workshops based on the Becoming a Love & Logic Parent® program for parents and other primary caregivers. This program offers skills for managing children’s behaviors. Parents can get involved in helping not only their own children’s success, but also that of the communities’. Currently, the Love and Logic Parent® Program is not available to parents due to lack of funding.
Dr. Dwyer has recruited and trained college students from Baldwin Wallace University to collaborate with ECCAO. These up-and-coming researchers aid in the evaluation of the program by carrying out in-school and in-home observations of the participating students. The research assistants are also heavily involved in presenting the information to others as well as coming up with innovative ideas to continually improve the program. Therefore, it is not only beneficial for surrounding communities, but is also involved in training future social service professionals.
The hope is that this model program will contribute further to the search for the roots of violence and when best to intervene with its course of development. Other early violence intervention programs similar to this one have tried implementing change in either the home or the school, but rarely on both fronts (Embry, Flannery, Vazsonyi, Powell, & Atha, 1996; Reynolds, 2000). In addition, programs such as this rarely begin so early in children’s lives. Dr. Dwyer has worked to ensure that this unique program covers all aspects of the children’s social development. As stated by Dr. Dwyer, “The purpose of this project is to improve the community, and not simply to do a study. This is what community psychology is all about, using community resources to prevent the occurrence of widespread community problems.”