MSU Social Work faculty McCauley and Smith-Darden receive a $1.6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focused on the primary prevention of child sexual abuse

September 24, 2021

Heather McCauley and Joanne Smith-Darden

Dr. Heather McCauley and Dr. Joanne Smith-Darden of the Michigan State University School of Social Work are Principal Investigators of a newly awarded $1.6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over four years, McCauley and Smith-Darden aim to strengthen the evidence base regarding the primary prevention of child sexual abuse through a community-engaged research partnership with Traverse Bay Children's Advocacy Center (TBCAC).

The project, The Public Will Campaign: Shifting Social Norms to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, grapples with the question: How do we mobilize entire communities to promote the rights and safety of children? The campaign pairs grassroots outreach methods with media tools to challenge misperceptions and leverage shared values. The short-term goals of the Public Will Campaign are to build strong communities and improve attitudes, social norms, and behaviors relative to child sexual abuse. The campaign's long-term goal is to end child sexual abuse for generations to come.

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center is one of Michigan's largest child advocacy centers and a regional advocate for child abuse justice, prevention, and healing. Accredited by the National Children's Alliance, TBCAC is consistently recognized for leadership in the state and field not only for its effective trauma-informed response to child abuse but for its innovative prevention interventions. In 2017, TBCAC widened its aperture from awareness raising efforts and applied a systems-change mindset to unravel the complex issue of child sexual abuse. It led an ad hoc group of northern Michigan experts and community advocates to design a macro-level approach to primary prevention, which resulted in the Public Will Campaign. Funding from Michigan State University in 2018 set the campaign in motion under the leadership of Sue Bolde (Executive Director, Public Will Campaign).

Now, with support from the CDC, Drs. McCauley and Smith-Darden will evaluate the Public Will Campaign guided by three aims: 1) building community cohesion, 2) exploring community voice, and 3) inspiring community action to prevent child sexual abuse in Michigan. Dr. Kai Cortina (University of Michigan), Dr. Alan Berkowitz (Campaign Consultant), and NewFoundry (a Michigan-based multimedia firm) will join the community-engaged research team.

Dr. McCauley shared, "We are delighted for the CDC to recognize the innovation of the Public Will Campaign. Survivors, community members, and professionals in the field inform this work. We hope that the next four years will result in desperately-needed sustained change for children in Michigan and across the country." 

Drs. Smith-Darden and McCauley direct SPARK Research for Social Change in the MSU School of Social Work, an interdisciplinary, team science-driven, community-engaged research lab focused on preventing violence in all its forms. You are welcome to follow their work on Twitter: @SPARK4Change.