Crittenton Children’s Center’s Trauma Smart Program Making Strides in 26 Missouri Counties, Gaining National Attention

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More than 3,200 preschool students who have experienced traumatic incidents are being better prepared for academic success.

With the tools they’ve gained, the children and the adults who love them are not just surviving after trauma, they are thriving.

As Crittenton Children’s Center is now well underway with the replication of its Trauma Smart program, the evidence of the program is positive and promising, and the program itself is gaining national attention.

With $4.5 million from four funding partners, Crittenton, Kansas City’s leader in effectively treating the mental and behavioral health care needs of children, was able to expand the leading-edge program from the Kansas City metro to 26 Missouri counties. This will benefit an estimated 3,265 preschool students in 156 classrooms each year for the next three years.

The program recently caught the attention of New York Times reporter David Bornstein, who featured it in an“Opinionator” blog post, “Teaching Children to Calm Themselves,” on March 19. The following day, it was the number one most emailed story on The New York Times website. (

“The response from across the country has been immediate and massive,” said Janine Hron, CEO of Crittenton Children’s Center. “Almost instantly the phone began ringing with agencies and educators asking for more information and access to the program. While it is wonderful to create national awareness of the Trauma Smart program and the work we are doing, it is also a sobering illustration of how great the need is in our country for tools to help children exposed to violence and trauma.”

Since the program’s initial launch in 2010, marked improvements have been noted using empirically validated tools. Trauma Smart uses the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) evaluation tool to measure the health and quality of relationships in the classroom—it is a federally designated evaluation tool for Head Start programs. Results have shown consistent improvement from baseline scores and some dimensions now meet or exceed national benchmarks. One hundred percent of the children enrolled benefit from an improved school environment and build personal resilience.

Additionally, results using the Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist—an assessment tool that measures treatment progress for children in therapy for mental disorders—show that children in the Trauma Smart program are less anxious and emotionally reactive, less aggressive or withdrawn, and overwhelmingly sleeping better. There is also a decrease in attention deficit, hyperactivity, and defiance issues. For the 7-10 percent of children in the program 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. This has a significant impact as children are entering kindergarten more academically prepared and requiring substantially fewer special services.

“Child development and growth occurs in the context of family and community. It is immensely gratifying that the Trauma Smart program is effectively making differences in the way communities deal with and heal after trauma,” said Hron. “With the tools they’ve gained, the children and the adults who love them are not just surviving after trauma, they are thriving. We couldn’t be prouder of this program and the way it is positively affecting the health and welfare of thousands of Missouri and Kansas families.”

About the Trauma Smart Program

Trauma Smart is an early childhood trauma intervention model initiated in 2010 in response to the remarkably negative impact of traumatic experiences on 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. Trauma Smart promotes the development of systemic trauma awareness, resiliency and practical lifelong coping skills.

Following a visit to Crittenton Children’s Center, George Sheldon, former assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of 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 four. 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, social, and 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 traumatic experiences and/or have their own history of trauma exposure.

To combat these long-lasting adverse effects, the 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., Robert Wood Johnson Foundation senior adviser for program development and a key Trauma Smart funder. “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is supportive of innovative models like Trauma Smart that are designed 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 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 Trauma Smart 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, as well as other early childhood settings. With Trauma Smart, 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 mental health and substance abuse care that includes acute inpatient hospitalization, residential treatment, and community-based services. Crittenton Children’s Center is part of Saint Luke’s Health System.

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Laurel Gifford
Saint Luke's Health System
+1 (816) 932-2709
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