Crittenton offers new program for children experiencing traumatic events

July 23, 2010

A young boy witnesses his father’s murder. A single mother uses alcohol and drugs to cope with depression.  A student’s insubordination triggers an anger-fueled response from an overwhelmed teacher.

These scenarios play out daily, leaving children and caretakers feeling hopeless. Luckily, a groundbreaking program, Head Start-Trauma Smart, designed by Crittenton Children’s Center offers help. The program provides training and support to area parents and teachers who work with children from age 3 to 5 who’ve experienced trauma. Here, program director Avis Smith, a licensed clinical social worker who directs Head Start-Trauma Smart, talks about this unique program and how it may become a national care model.

How does trauma affect kids?

Traumatic events are those that frighten, confuse or hurt a child, like:

  • The death of a loved one
  • Painful or extended medical procedures
  • Separation from family or caregivers
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Violent crime or accidents

Childhood trauma has lasting effects and is linked to adult aggression, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression and suicide.

How did the program come about?

For 17 years, we’ve provided mental health services to Kansas City, Kan., Head Start programs. We found that an increasing number of preschool-aged kids have experienced trauma:

  • 83 percent have had at least one traumatic event in their lives
  • 64 percent have had two or more events
  • 47 percent have had three or more

Whom does the program help?

We provide treatment at 13 sites in Kansas City, Kan., and now two in Kansas City, Mo., treating more than 900 children in both states. We provide 10 two-hour training sessions throughout the year for Head Start staff, and we employ three full-time therapists who provide individual treatment. We help children and adults manage their traumatic memories and modify behavior.

How does financial support help?

Recently, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation selected Crittenton for its Local Funding Partnerships matching grants program. The foundation will give $500,000 over three years, which will be matched by $700,000 from local funding partners. This will provide $1.2 million to support Head Start-Trauma Smart.

This money allowed us to hire full-time therapists and additional staff, as well as expand the program to Missouri. By successfully implementing this program in two states, we hope to help facilitate nationwide replication of Head Start-Trauma Smart.