Common sense suggests that the rate of school suspensions go up as children grow older. This belief is fueled by media images of middle school bullies and adolescent thugs. So a recent Department of Education report on this topic surprised a lot of people. It turns out that preschool-aged children are 13 times more likely to be suspended than their older brothers and sisters.
Many of the children in the Head Start program at the Crittenton Center in Kansas City, MO. display the type of aggressive, defiant behaviors that would put them at risk for suspension in other settings. But here the outcomes are quite different.
Why? Because in 2010 a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation began training staff to rethink how they interpret children’s behavior. The innovative program is called Head Start Trauma Smart. Its goal is to teach participants to view what children do through a trauma-sensitive lens.
While the relationship between trauma and aggressive behavior in young children is well established, the links between the two are often ignored. Traditionally, interventions that help children overcome early adversity are provided in a clinical setting, at a cost that makes them inaccessible for many families.
The Head Start Trauma Smart seeks to overcome these obstacles by training Head Start personnel to integrate trauma-informed interventions into everyday classroom activities and routines. These are closely aligned with the ARC model (Blaustein & Kinniburgh, 2010), which emphasizes the need to strengthen children’s attachment relationships with supportive adults, develop age-appropriate self-regulatory behaviors, and become academically and socially competent.
The program is so successful that in 2013 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided grant money to train Head Start staff throughout the state. If replication sites continue to show improved outcomes for participants, Head Start Trauma Smart could represent a major breakthrough in getting meaningful mental health supports into a system that serves a large number of children and families.
For more information about Head Start Trauma Smart, go to: