DCF announces HEART Initiative for Teen Healthy Relationship Month

Posted 2/29/24

February is Healthy Teen Relationship Month, and this annual, month-long effort focuses on advocacy...

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DCF announces HEART Initiative for Teen Healthy Relationship Month


TALLAHASSEE — On Feb. 26, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Shevaun Harris announced the HEART Initiative for Teen Healthy Relationship Month. Standing for Hear, Empathize, Assess, Respect, Talk, the HEART Initiative is a collaborative effort between DCF and the Department of Education to spread awareness of healthy relationship information for teens. The initiative equips Florida’s teenagers, schools, and communities with resources to help students develop healthy relationship skills as they begin dating.

“As the Department Secretary and a mom, our goal is for all young adults to know what healthy relationships look like from the very beginning,” said DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris. “Through the HEART Initiative, we are able to create more awareness of what a healthy relationship entails, and through our partnership with Department of Education we will be able to spread this messaging to every school district in the state. We are focused on early intervention, and we are prioritizing prevention programming for teens, parents, caregivers, and guardians.”

February is Healthy Teen Relationship Month, and this annual, month-long effort focuses on advocacy and education to stop dating abuse before it starts.

“Our schools are in the important position to prepare Florida’s children for not only their futures in the workforce but also for their futures as friends, parents, and spouses,” said Dr. Peggy Aune, Vice-Chancellor of Strategic Improvement, Florida Department of Education. “This collaborative effort with the Department of Children and Families provides powerful resources for our schools to continue educating teens on what it means to be in a healthy relationship.”

“Our relationships as teens set the stage for our relationships throughout our lives. Many adult survivors of domestic violence report a pattern of unhealthy relationships starting in their youth,” said Emily Mitchum, Refuge House Chief Executive Officer. “Starting these important conversations before our children begin dating will help us set a strong foundation for future relationships built on love, respect, and trust.”

“Our teens are so close to adulthood, but even though they have just a few years of their youth left, they still need support and guidance from the adults in their lives,” said Gwynn Virostek, Capital City Youth Services President and Chief Executive Officer. “Equipping parents, teachers, and other trusted adults with the warning signs of dating violence will empower them to guide teens on a path to healthy, happy relationships.

“I’ve experienced firsthand the very real toll that dating violence takes on young people, and it is my mission to advocate for all survivors through Hands Across the Bay. I wish my friends and I had these tools when we were young teens,” said Melissa Dohme Hill, Survivor and Executive Director of Hands Across the Bay. “The warning signs that my relationship as a teen were not healthy were all around, but I didn’t know what to look for. I’m so thankful that our state leaders are treating this issue with the care and seriousness it deserves. I feel it is my duty as a survivor to speak for those who can’t.”

“The most important thing to teach our kids is that violence is not normal, and no one needs to remain in relationships that are hurtful,” said Harold W. Edwards II, School-based navigator, Council on Status of Men and Boys. “Our youth can be different than what they have seen. Knowledge is key to preparing our youth for healthy relationships. They can break the cycle.”

To access resources to use within your schools and to learn more about the initiative, visit MyFLFamilies.com/HEART.

DCF, department of children and families, HEART, teens, teenagers, relationships, dating, abuse, relationships