Program Components

The Safe Harbor program has five core components or strategies intended to address one or more of these levels:

  • A victim assistance/violence prevention curriculum that includes 10 core lessons. These lessons are interactive and explore topics such as the impact of violence and victimization on individuals, families, and communities; the influence of peers, family, and culture on attitudes and beliefs about violence; and the development of safety strategies, communication, and support skills. Seven modules address topics such as dating violence, sexual harassment, family violence, and the impact of bias crime and gang violence on individuals and communities. Through role playing and modeling, young people examine their experiences, learn to identify their choices, and practice new skills that can be transferred to real-life situations.

  • Individual and group counseling that offers additional support to victimized youth by providing followup to students who want to discuss issues raised in the curriculum classes. Counseling helps youth explore the impact of violence in their lives, work through conflicts, and cope with other difficulties they may experience. Safe Harbor staff work closely with—or are themselves—school social workers and counselors and, when necessary, refer students to clinical services both inside and outside of the school.

  • Parent involvement and staff training that enhances students’ relationships with the adults in their lives, further buffering youth from the effects of exposure to violence. Parent and staff training not only helps adults understand the violence youth face but also teaches them ways to cope with their own experiences with violence and victimization. Trainings and workshops may address topics in the curriculum such as the impact of violence and victimization or may explore other topics such as parenting or stress management.

  • Structured group activities that include focused group discussions and skill-building sessions to promote positive peer relationships. These activities provide young people throughout the school community with the chance to identify problems and create solutions, to explore topics in depth, and to learn how to channel stresses and anxieties through other outlets such as artistic activities, physical games, or relaxation activities.

  • A schoolwide antiviolence campaign that aims to build a cohesive culture of nonviolence in the school and provides youth with meaningful opportunities for leadership. Examples of schoolwide campaigns implemented in Safe Harbor schools include poster campaigns, an assembly with a speaker on victimization issues, and a quiltmaking project in which every class contributes a square.

“Before we had the Safe Harbor program, our attendance was basically about 78 percent of children coming to school every day. Since we’ve had the program, our attendance rate is now 91 percent of our children attending school. If you feel safe, you come to school.”

—Middle School Principal,
Brooklyn, New York

The centerpiece around which the core Safe Harbor program components revolve is a “safe room” in the school where students can receive support throughout the schoolday in an environment that is both physically and emotionally protective. Any student or member of the school community is welcome in the room, particularly witnesses to violence, students who are fighting, and victims of bullying. The students create a code of conduct for the room and ground rules, and they establish chore lists and schedules for taking care of the room. Establishing rules and monitoring the room gives students a sense of ownership, pride, and empowerment and promotes partnership between youth and adults. The room serves as a hub for Safe Harbor services. It can become a place where school personnel refer students throughout the day for conflict resolution, counseling, or time out to discuss what is on their minds. Ideally, the safe room is large enough to accommodate comfortable sofas, a TV/VCR, and games. A large room is preferable because it can accommodate Safe Harbor curriculum classes and parent and teacher workshops in a place where comfort, safety, and trust have been developed. 


“Safe Harbor is a place you can go to when you have problems. Safe Harbor is also a nonviolence plan. It means to me, do not be a bully.”

—Willie, 7th grade,
New York City

Schools have limited resources available for additional programming such as the Safe Harbor program, but limited resources often result in creative program structures. Schools that have replicated the Safe Harbor model have had different-size rooms and a variety of teams of school personnel operating the room and conducting the different program components. For example, some schools have a team of teachers facilitate the curriculum in their classrooms and use the Safe Harbor room for counseling with a fulltime Safe Harbor counselor. Other schools have established the room as the umbrella under which their existing social services fall and integrated the program components into that system. All of the program components are essential to providing a comprehensive violence prevention and intervention program.

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Safe Harbor: A School-Based Victim Assistance/Violence Prevention Program
January 2003