Written by: Center for Care Innovations

Peer circles are often described as small groups of peers, sometimes guided by a facilitator, designed to support each other and work on issues in a warm and supportive environment. In a peer circle reflection for Amplify Healing Connections, CCI hosted representatives from each of the six partnerships in Amplify Healing Connections, who shared some of their discoveries in working with teens navigating intimate partner and domestic violence issues. The consensus was that although each group was unique, there are some universal themes. Here are some of their most consistent findings:

Center youth and teens

Adolescents want to feel listened to, included, and supported in an authentic way. They also want to take the lead in designing programming and messaging that feels relevant. Live Oak Youth Partnership in Santa Cruz—which includes partner Santa Cruz Community Health Centers—has two teens and two parents on their team, notes team member Aracely Contreras, family engagement coordinator with Cradle to Career, a parent advocacy organization in Santa Cruz. The youth have a voice in planning projects, too. For instance, the partnership runs youth-led afterschool programming, including community circles for youth and parents to discuss healthy relationships at local parks and youth centers.

Similarly, members of the Contra Costa Amplify Healing Partnership–whose health care partner is John Muir Health–support youth to co-collaborate with them in a “courageous conversations” conference around healthy relationships, says Vy Vo, Family Justice Center program manager. Youth want their thoughts and ideas acknowledged, says Vo, and they can thrive, know their worth, and feel empowered when they feel heard. Teenagers want places where they are free to be themselves without judgment or fear of repercussions, Contreras and Vo agreed.

Emphasize the positive

Intimate partner violence and domestic violence are intense, tough subjects to tackle. Cohort participants, including the McKinleyville Healthy Relationships Coalition—made up of representatives from the Native Women’s Collective, McKinleyville Family Resource Center, and Open Door Community Health Centers—want to address the subject from a strengths-based approach with an emphasis on positive programs and communication that foster cultural and social connections to encourage youth and adults to make healthy relationship choices. The thinking is, it’s important that youth and their families practice skills for healthy, safe relationships, so teens are able to recognize non-healthy communication and relationships when they crop up.

The Live Oak Youth Partnership team agreed, describing a common challenge they and other partnerships face: How do we take a strengths-based approached to preventing violence in an upstream way? Community connection and engagement, openness and trust, a passion and commitment to the community and uplifting youth and parent voices, team members said, are all good places to start.

Make engagement easy

It’s important to eliminate barriers to access for youth programming. In rural communities, such as McKinleyville, that can mean providing transportation so teens can get to an activity, explains Aristea Saulsbury, project manager at McKinleyville Family Resource Center, which works with remote and Indigenous youth. In Contra Costa, it may mean holding an event in a location that is readily accessible by public transit. Similarly, Saulsbury says, it can mean a partner organization needs to take on the slog of logistical matters—securing spaces to meet, producing materials—so participants can focus on the program’s fun cultural, physical, and social activities.

Strengthen partnerships through collaboration

“As systems, we all speak different languages,” says Edwin Weaver, executive director of Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley, a youth outreach program that has partnered on this project with Community Health Centers of the Central Coast to form the Peace Network. It’s crucial, he says, to “help the schools understand the limits of the public mental health system and where a local clinic can fill that gap. And a school can also communicate to a local health care clinic that they have a lot of mental health needs but have very limited resources.” For instance, Weaver notes that the two principals tasked with handling mental health matters at one local school district had no professional background or education in the mental health field. The partnership has been able to offer support by explaining how each agency works and offering a workflow so that  the students’ mental health needs are met.

Build trust, empathy and respect

For these collaborations to succeed, trust-building is crucial. Genuine, empathic and respectful relationships among team members is vital for this work to proceed. It’s also important to talk about a shared, unified vision to creating positive programming, ideally in person. Several groups talked about the importance of coming together in real life—even with all the obstacles that time, schedules, a pandemic, and lockdowns have thrown in their way. It’s key, they say, for true co-collaboration to take place. Good things happen when groups can get together and talk face to face.

Execute and advocate for “the ask”

Healthy Black Families Collaborative in Sacramento, made up of six community organizations, has intentionally prioritized deeply listening to and amplifying Black youth and family voices. But listening is just the first step, says Timiza Wash, community engagement strategist at WEAVE, the primary provider of crisis intervention services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Sacramento County. Teens want those who seek to support and connect with them to follow through—they’re asking for action. Too often, Wash says, youth express what they need but there is no follow up, things stagnate. It’s important, she says, to focus on what youth are asking to be done and either acting and offering solutions or advocating on their behalf. If it’s necessary, go elsewhere for expertise or professional experience.

Seek buy-in on multiple levels

The partners at SLO Education Collaborative in San Luis Obispo learned quickly that students are hungry for information and support around healthy relationships, sex education, and intimate partner and domestic violence. They need to know where their “safe” people are—which may not be their parents or peers, but a trusted third-party support person, such as a health education provider in the community, who can assist them during a crisis, notes team member Jennifer MacMartin, prevention specialist at Cal Poly Safer, the campus’s primary confidential resource for addressing sexual assault, intimate partner violence, domestic violence, stalking, sexual exploitation, and harassment.

Take a holistic approach to care

Youth need a holistic approach to care in this arena, says Emma Fay, teen wellness coordinator at CAPSLO, short for Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo, which services low-income residents. To that end, the SLO partnership models a three-pronged approach to amplify healing in this area: outreach and programing for teens, parents and caregivers, who need knowledge and support; the community, which provides support and services; and elected officials at the city, county, and state level, who introduce and enforce policy regarding intimate and domestic violence.


Amplify Healing Connections seeks to strengthen interventions designed to prevent domestic violence and promote health and well-being for adolescent youth and their adult allies. Launched in March 2021, the 22-month program, with funding from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, is a collaboration with six California-based, multi-sector partnerships, each involving at least one community-based organization and one health care provider serving youth 12-18 years old. Youth-service organizations play a pivotal role in promoting healthy communication and providing a strong, nourishing environment for young people and their caregivers. Coordinated efforts across community organizations can amplify positive childhood experiences (PCEs) and help prevent, reduce, and even reverse the impact of early adversity.

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