The DHS Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3) hosted its first Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) Grantee Symposium on November 3-4, 2022. Below is a summary of participants' discussions and feedback and an exploration of future opportunities that came from the symposium. Also included are goals that CP3 has identified, based on the discussion and participant feedback, to enable continued collaboration across and within the TVTP grantee network.
Over the course of two days, the symposium brought together more than 200 representatives from 73 grantee and partner organizations. The symposium allowed for grantees to create and foster new partnerships, share the impact of their work, and make plans for future collaboration. Grantees organized panels on Building Awareness and Resiliency; Threat Assessment and Management Teams; and Evaluation and Metrics for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention.
Topical breakout sessions were held on Achieving Sustainability; Community Engagement and Communications; and School-based Interventions and Prevention Programming (K-12). Four regional breakout sessions were dedicated to grantees in geographic regions: East, West, Central, and Midwest United States. One of the key discussions at the symposium was K-12 school-based interventions and prevention programming. The discussions centered around youth empowerment as a protective factor, communication and outreach with school administrators, and youth engagement and retention.
The Building Awareness and Resiliency panel discussed elements of early prevention strategies and various approaches to raising the general public’s awareness of the risks of and potential responses to targeted violence and terrorism. Panelists talked about their grant-funded projects and fielded questions about their successes and challenges.
Panelists also shared their experiences engaging with the general public, conducting extensive community engagement, and finding diverse audiences. They emphasized the importance of using data to tell a story, which makes content more compelling, as well as tying in the local relevance of a program to make an impactful connection with the community that will be impacted by grant activities. There was a detailed discussion of the evidence base informing resilience and awareness, raising topics including educational displacement and the need to address attachment/rejection, grievances, and bias to build protective factors in youth.
The panelists highlighted several challenges grantees may face and offered suggestions to address those challenges. For example, trainers should use plain language that is culturally competent and sensitive. Grantees working in early prevention should recognize the expertise of community members and seek their input in tailoring training and other engagement. The panelists also stressed the importance of continued engagement after providing programming, because communities will need continued support to make the most of what they have learned.
In the Threat Assessment and Management Teams (TAMTs) panel, each speaker presented their program and how they have approached threat assessment in their communities. Two speakers discussed how they have approached TAMTs in schools, and another discussed their team’s work with formerly incarcerated violent extremists and the challenges and successes they have seen in recidivism reduction work. Each panelist touched on building trust with local communities and how to address distrust from their target populations.
The moderator said that the public seems to misunderstand the impact of federal law restricting the release of medical information and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) when deciding whether or not to share information regarding an “imminent danger.” Fear of violating privacy laws is often a reason why threats are not shared before acts of violence. The speaker pointed to FERPA specifically, because their program works in schools, but mentioned that medical privacy laws present similar issue.
The panel took questions from the audience, including how to maintain contact with local community leaders and agencies when there is limited local community support for the TAMT. The panel discussed the ideal model of a threat assessment team; there was a consensus among the panel that the ideal TAMT model is flexible and adapts to the environment in which the assessment team operates. For example, a university setting is different from a K-12 school setting in terms of both the composition of the team and the types of cases. In addition, these teams may have different policies and naming/terminology conventions. They also agreed that since TAMTs require trusted partnerships, buy-in from stakeholders within the community is critical.
Each panelist gave a presentation on their organization and their grantee programs. One group defined the types of evaluation criteria for a TVTP Grant Programs as well as the process they go through, starting with an assessment and moving through the actual evaluation.
Panelists reassured new grantees that the evaluation tool is not meant to discourage the organization's work, but, rather, to assess the strengths and weaknesses in their programs and find solutions. Findings from the 2016 evaluations have been made public, and upcoming evaluations will be similarly made public.
Each panelist highlighted successes and failures of their organization's work. Challenges included the difficulty of building a program from the ground-up, reaching a competent and fully staffed team, getting buy-in from local organizations and developing partnerships, approaching the target audience and building trust, and program sustainability. Panelists also share successes, which included shifting the perspective of local law enforcement to allow for alternative methods of addressing threats and building a full staff of experienced and competent professionals.
Audience members asked questions about how to address the difficult topics of threat and targeted violence in a new/mistrusting community, organizational liability when receiving and handling cases, what kind of evaluations may be appropriate for newer organizations, and what kind of data would be needed in evaluations.
The CP3 Regional Prevention Coordinator (RPC) began the breakout session with introductions, and the TVTP grantees provided brief overviews of their respective projects and program successes. Grantees talked about Institutional Review Board (IRB) support from DHS, partnership building, and partnerships underscore the importance of TVTP programs to parents and community leaders. Grantees shared some challenges they face, which included a lack of interest in collaborating with DHS, distrust of the federal government and past Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) approaches, and a lack of understanding within local communities as to the purpose and scope of TVTP work. Grantees suggested having more specific regional meetings before the annual symposium, having grantees show and share examples of how communities use the trainings and resources that they have developed, and creating a virtual platform that is run by the grantees to enable continued collaboration and information sharing. Other key topics during the breakout session included improving the messaging and language of TVTP work, ensuring transparent community engagement, increasing knowledge of government resources and data, mapping community stakeholder grievances/narratives, using diplomacy for message/programs, and establishing communities of practices with trending components (such as training, monitoring and evaluation, threat assessment, and grass root movements).
The breakout session began with introductions, and then new grantees were given the opportunity to ask more experienced grantees about challenges they currently face or anticipate. The more experienced grantees shared what they wish they had known earlier in their periods of performance. CP3 and fiscal year (FY) 20 grantees encouraged new grantees to reach out and develop relationships with their RPCs and grants managers. Grantees requested a slick sheet on common issues for new grantees to reference for simple issues/challenges.
This breakout session focused on several common hurdles that grantees face. Participants emphasized the ever-changing field of countering violence, the role of law enforcement in mental health spaces, and increasing political polarization around common terms used in the field of countering targeted violence. Grantees expressed the need for a way to connect with fellow grantees to discuss the issues most, if not all, of the program's face. Grantees suggested that these discussions could take place on the Grantee Information-Sharing Network on DHS’s Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN).
This breakout session opened with new grantees asking questions of the FY 20 and FY 21 grantees and CP3 staff. Questions included Institutional Review Board (IRB) requirements, establishing trust with target audiences, and administrative topics like how to pull funds. Both FY 20 and FY 21 grantees advised new grantees to read the Notice of Funding Opportunity carefully for all questions and encouraged close relationships with the RPCs and CP3 grants managers. Participants spent a lot of time discussing the importance of establishing trust with their target audiences. Secretary Mayorkas, who sat in on the breakout session, acknowledged that there is a lack of trust in the Department and that improvement in that regard is necessary. He emphasized that grantees are community partners who can help build that trust and be advocates for DHS partnerships in local communities. The grantees were also encouraged to have open communication with their grants managers to ensure DHS and the grantee are on the same page and can work through issues like trust together.
This breakout session was focused on two main topics: Challenges and solutions, and future opportunities for collaboration. Participants discussed developing projects and programs, and grantees were advised that long-term thinking leads to long-term programs. A discussion regarding investing to create long-term sustainability and growth led to participants proposing solutions, such as considering activities beyond grant deliverables. Participants also discussed the importance of partnerships and how to continue implementation of key activities and maintain prevention capabilities after the grant period of performance. The moderator expressed a desire to raise awareness of the resources and capabilities available to grantees and that they would like to report on connections made throughout the year at the next symposium. Attendees voiced a desire for more transparency and information sharing between grantees on what has worked in their programs and what has not and for more collaboration between grantees. The moderator also proposed a DHS-led “speed-networking” activity to allow grantees to meet each other and decide which partnerships they would like to pursue.
K-12 School Based Intervention and Prevention:
This breakout session specifically focused on the following sub-topics: Youth Empowerment, Youth Engagement and Retention, and Outreach to Schools. Participants spent most of the session focused on issues related to school outreach and the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on teacher bandwidth and classroom capabilities. Many of the grantees noted they have not been readily received in classrooms as most teachers appear to be focusing on week-to-week issues and are not open to additional work/curriculum for their students. Secretary Mayorkas participated in a discussion about appropriate language around schools, children, and concerned parents. The discussion on terminology was focused on the phrase “Threat Assessment Teams.” Participants brought up other options like “Care Teams” as an alternative. The moderator suggested holding quarterly meetings with grantees focused on school-based prevention to create one-pagers, address these issues, and come up with solutions for the issues discussed.
Community Engagement and Communication:
This breakout session began with a focus on the definition of engagement in programs and what the goal of engagement is. Engagement is defined differently for each community. The goals of engagement include an emphasis on outreach and learning, elevating people who feel disenfranchised, allowing communities to speak for themselves, and ensuring that the community does not feel like the grant program is like a traveling circus and will instead be long-term part of the community. Participants discussed some of the problems they might face reaching their goals. The biggest problems were related to the difficulty of creating connections within the community and law enforcement’s involvement in their program and the community. They also discussed the stigma that divides and isolates individuals and underlies extremism. Participants agreed that the best solution to these issues is to find common ground between sectors in the community and help individuals understand that developing trusting relationships is a long-term process. FY 20 and FY 21 grantees advised new FY 22 grantees to work with and establish relationships with influential community leaders, like veterans or religious figures. The final point echoed loudly throughout the entire symposium was that language and messaging matter. After the symposium, the participants wanted the list of symposium attendees to be shared by CP3 to facilitate networking, collaboration, and partnership building after the event.
During his closing remarks, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spoke about the topics that had been discussed each topical breakout session. He reiterated the importance of allowing programs to address violence and threats in their own communities before federal officials can meaningfully help. This field requires trust and partnerships within local communities, and the federal agents can be seen as outsiders.
He also discussed the necessity of careful, meaningful language, and effective communication that fits the moment. This emphasis on the right language can be a tool to help overcome the trust issues in a community. He also emphasized the need for partnerships, especially at the local/community level. Partnering with influential and educated leaders of the communities could also be a method one could use to overcome the trust deficit.
In closing, Secretary Mayorkas shared that a lot of work is being done to increase opportunities to those who believe they do not have any, to bring together the strength and the fragility of humanity, and to develop strong, trusted partnerships. He talked about efforts to tackle major issues like mental health, the role of law enforcement, family bonding, and community bonding. He noted that goal is to be able to support local communities when requested and be welcomed with trust and open arms.
Secretary Mayorkas thanked the grantees for their work, and he reassured all in attendance that this program is a priority for the Department and that the work being done is of the highest importance.