As the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at CU Boulder turns 30, its founder and current director share thoughts on the center’s legacy
It was 1992 when Delbert Elliott, who had been researching criminology and delinquency for three decades, decided it was time to apply his research into reducing violence and promoting positive youth development. That was the birth of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV).
For the last 30 years, the CSPV has been a pioneer in studying and identifying what works preventing school shootings and other violence and championing the use of evidence-based programs backed by the highest scientific standards. To date, it has successfully led over 75 school and community initiatives in Colorado, nationally and internationally.
“Developing the center was a critical turn in my career,” Elliott says. “I wasn’t satisfied with just the research and I wanted to be closer to what was happening out in the field, to help those who were working in the field. The center opened up a lot of opportunities for me.”
Elliott, who retired in 2018 at the age of 85, says the CSPV accomplishment that means the most to him was developing the Blueprints for Violence Prevention program (now dubbed Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development). It added scientific standards for evaluating the evidence of a program’s effectiveness, and it included an expert review process along with certification for programs that met the standard. The program originally focused on violence and drug use outcomes but it has since expanded into mental and physical health, self-regulation, educational achievement and other positive developmental outcomes.
“I do like the range of interests that are covered now in the blueprints, it’s a good and healthy thing to expand into those new areas,” he says. “I think the blueprints has the greatest potential to make an impact in the field because we know that these are programs you can count on because we know they work.”
Elliott says the idea for blueprints hit him when he realized those who were giving grants didn’t know what worked. “A lot of times the grant money was just based guesses or on political patronage,” he says.
He adds that he felt good about the transition when he retired in 2018. “I’m very proud of Beverly (Beverly Kingston, the CSPV’s director since 2012)—she’s done a terrific job.”
Kingston, who worked with Elliott for 20 years, calls him a “man of great honor and integrity,” adding:
“Honestly, he’s a hero, that’s what he is. He mentored so many of us and he saw a vision of how science could be translated into practice. His legacy is exponential because of his willingness to take time to help others. This university is about how brilliant minds can work across disciplines to solve our most pressing problems and Del’s career is a strong example of that.”
Kingston adds that as a researcher Elliott was learning critical information that could be applied to preventing violence “and we’ve since learned that by putting evidence-based programs into practice we could reduce violence by 30%. His impact is so big and meaningful—he is a true a pioneer in the evidence-based programs movement.”
Both Elliott and Kingston believe the U.S. can prevent school shootings by instituting the blueprint and evidence-based programs to scale.
“Ideally schools and communities will implement blueprint programs across three tiers—universal prevention programs that can support all students and staff, programs for students with identified risks, and intervention programs for those youth that are already engaged in negative behaviors,” Kingston says. “And we have to ensure those programs are implemented well.”
She says another CSPV program, Safe Communities Safe Schools, helps schools create positive climates, prevent bullying, develop bystander reporting and response systems, better share information about a person's concerning behaviors, and develop behavioral threat assessment and management processes. “We know when these kinds of initiatives are in place, they can avert and prevent violence,” Kingston says.
Kingston adds that the CSPV has learned from school and other mass shootings that there were missed opportunities to thwart shooters’ plans.
“We began to see the missed opportunities to intervene. In the Arapahoe High School shooting, we found that there were 27 missed opportunities. And in the Parkland (Florida) shooting, there were 69 missed opportunities. So we know we need to build systems to help avert the violence.”
Elliott also emphasizes prevention.
“Of course, we want to be prepared to respond (to a shooting) but in looking at prevention, we’ve learned a lot about red flags and oftentimes someone knows what’s about to take place so it’s about intervening early enough to prevent it,” he says. “Safe2Tell (the anonymous reporting program) came out of Columbine (the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado) and now other states are doing that, too. That program has really made a difference for an advanced warning and it has prevented a significant number of attacks and suicides as well.”
Elliott also points to programs such as life skills training, family therapy, bully prevention, family-based programs and drug prevention as ways to prevent violence. “We know they’re successful. But even with the best programs, we know we’re not going to stop every incident—and that’s sad—but we have to continue the work. We know early socialization is key. Kids aren’t getting the care of love and discipline they need.”
Kingston says violence prevention is about “creating social systems—at home, at school and in the community—that support the healthy development of our kids.”
The CSPV is planning a celebration for its 30th anniversary this fall.
Ahead of that, faculty experts from CU Boulder, including Kingston, and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus will join together in a webinar from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on June 28 moderated by Chancellor Philip DiStefano focused on the public health impacts of gun violence. The event—free and open to faculty, staff and students—will include questions and answers. Information for this event is here.