Crittenton Children's Center Expands Program To Help Students Affected By Childhood Trauma

Jun 20, 2013, 12:18 ET from Crittenton Children’s Center

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides grant for Head Start-Trauma Smart program, which prepares preschool students for academic success

KANSAS CITY, Mo., June 20, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Crittenton Children's Center today announced it has received a $2.3 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to expand its Head Start-Trauma Smart (HS-TS) model into multiple Missouri communities. HS-TS helps preschool students who have experienced childhood trauma.

With the help of this new grant, Crittenton will replicate the HS-TS program into urban, suburban, and rural communities in 26 counties. In the Kansas City area, the project will continue in Wyandotte and Jackson counties, with expansion into Platte and Clay counties. In the eastern region of the state, Head Start sites in St. Charles, Warren, and Lincoln counties will implement the model. Additionally, the project will include those counties surrounding Columbia, Jefferson City, Joplin, and Trenton. HS-TS will benefit an estimated 3,265 preschool students in 156 classrooms each year, for the next three years.

HS-TS is an early childhood trauma intervention model initiated in 2008 in response to the remarkably negative impact of traumatic experiences on the children and staff in Kansas City urban core Head Start programs. Using trauma-focused training and skill development for children, parents, and Head Start staff (teachers, administrators, bus drivers, kitchen, secretarial staff, etc.) the model creates calm, connected classrooms and home environments where children can learn and thrive for lifetime success. Licensed therapists provide classroom consultation as well as individual/family therapy, while staff and parent mentors are developed to sustain progress. HS-TS promotes the development of systemic trauma awareness, resiliency and practical life-long coping skills.

Outcome measures are achieved using empirically validated tools. HS-TS uses the CLASS evaluation tool, federally designated for Head Start programs, to measure the health and quality of relationships in the classroom. Results have shown consistent improvement from baseline scores and some dimensions now meet or exceed national norms. One-hundred percent of the children enrolled benefit from an improved school environment, and build personal resilience. For the 7-10 percent of children who need individual therapeutic intervention, results are strong, with a significant number moving from a clinical range of concern to the normal range among their peers.

"Child development and growth occurs in the context of family and community. It is immensely gratifying that the Head Start-Trauma Smart program is effectively making differences in the way communities deal with and heal after trauma," Janine Hron, Crittenton Children's Center CEO, said. "With the tools they've gained, the children and the adults who love them are not just surviving after trauma, they are thriving. Thanks to the generosity of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we now have the opportunity to test replicability of the model in a wide variety of settings, while simultaneously positively affecting the health and welfare of thousands of Missouri families."

Following a visit to Crittenton Children's Center, George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. Health and Human Services Administration on Children and Families said, "This is exactly the direction that we are looking to go at the federal level. Reaching families when their children are very young pays dividends into the future. It will be exciting to see the progress of this program going forward."

The effects of trauma on a child's developing brain and his/her community

According to a study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, 26 percent of American children will have experienced at least one serious traumatic event before reaching the age of 4. A traumatic event may include witnessing a family member being arrested; witnessing family members hitting, punching, kicking or killing one another; having a primary caregiver die; experiencing child abuse; or exposure to a family member's substance abuse or mental illness.

These traumatic events can have a substantive and long-lasting impact on the brain and life of a young child. "As preschoolers, they are already chronically hyper-vigilant and fearful," said Avis Smith, LCSW, LSCSW, director of prevention and school-based services at Crittenton. "Trauma can delay physical and social/emotional development, presenting barriers to academic success and troubling behaviors that are difficult to remediate until the trauma has been addressed." In fact, a large number of children are being expelled from preschools across the country due in large part to such impairment. Additionally, many of the caretakers, parents, and teachers in these children's lives share their traumatizing experiences and/or have their own history of trauma exposure.

To combat the long-lasting adverse effects of trauma, the Head Start-Trauma Smart program serves as a "reset" mechanism that helps adjust the way children and adults alike react to complex, traumatic experiences. Those affected and altered by their traumatic experiences—adults as well as children—often feel irritable, alternately withdrawing or lashing out. They are at substantially greater risk for depression, unintended pregnancy, high blood pressure, and chronic heart and liver disease. Reliance on alcohol and drugs dramatically increases as they struggle to relieve the emotional and physical pain.

"For children exposed to chronic trauma early in life, it is critical that we intervene as early as possible to prevent a host of cognitive, behavioral, and physical health problems throughout their lifetimes," said Jane Isaacs Lowe, Ph.D., RWJF senior adviser for program development. "The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is proud to help innovative models like Head Start-Trauma Smart spread to create a different future for more kids and families in need – a future in which children have the support, stability, and resilience they need to succeed in school and grow up healthy."

Teachers in the program share comments such as, "Before Head Start-Trauma Smart, I felt exhausted from caring for so many children whose behaviors were out of control." "I didn't realize how important it was to take care of myself." " Now I feel supported because my Head Start agency understands how trauma affects children and their learning." "I felt all alone in the classroom, but now I'm energized and I know I am making a difference." 

The consistently positive HS-TS outcomes suggest that Crittenton's program is on the cusp of an important contribution, with promise to become a federally designated best-practice model benefiting the more than 900,000 children in Head Start programs nationwide. With HS-TS, participants transition from gaining awareness of the individual and community implications of trauma, through phases of change resulting in the adoption of a proficient, trauma-informed system.

About Crittenton Children's Center
For more than 100 years, Crittenton has been caring for the emotional health of children and families in the Kansas City area. It has evolved into a comprehensive system of behavioral health care that includes acute inpatient hospitalization, residential treatment, and community-based services. Crittenton Children's Center is part of Saint Luke's Health System.

About The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. For 40 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter or Facebook    

SOURCE Crittenton Children’s Center