Childhood Trauma

“Children’s exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences is the greatest unaddressed public health threat of our time.” - Robert W. Block, MD, FAAP, immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatric

Childhood trauma, defined as exposure to three or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), poses a significant public health issue for our community.  (ACEs include experiences such as child abuse or neglect, parental mental illness, substance abuse or incarceration, divorce and domestic violence.) A new survey estimates that 1 in 5 Douglas County children has experienced childhood trauma, putting them at high risk for lifelong physical and mental health problems, which can also be transmitted to future generations. Identifying and addressing ACEs early in life (birth to age 5) can reduce these negative consequences and help break the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

 A significant body of research initiated by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente in the 1990’s has demonstrated the correlation between exposure to ACEs and adverse health consequences. (  ACEs negatively impact brain development in young children and also affect both immune and hormonal systems.  ACEs have been implicated in seven of the 10 leading causes of death, as well as depression, alcohol and substance abuse.  Preventing ACEs and mitigating their impact when they do occur can change the trajectory of children’s lives and create positive short- and long-term health outcomes for our community.

Our Work

The Childhood Trauma Research Group of Justice Matters, composed of 30 members including professionals from early childhood and K-12 education, health care and social services, has met with over 40 local and national experts in the area of childhood trauma and resilience.  Based on this work and momentum already in the community, we have developed the following goal for the coming year:

  • Provide childhood trauma and resilience training to 100 early childhood professionals (home visitors, child care providers and preschool educators) by March 2017 using two proven training programs: 

    • Trauma Smart, a 10-month evidence-based training designed by the Crittenton Center (St. Luke’s – Kansas City) for 50 preschool and child care professionals (impacting children ages 3-5).  Training sessions are two hours per month, supported by coaching, consultation and parent engagement.   Cost:  $85,000
    • Lemonade for Life, a 6-hour evidence-informed training on trauma and resilience developed at KU and targeted to home visitors working with parents of children birth to age 3.   Cost:  $ 14,000 for 3 classes of up to 20 each

The three programs to benefit from this training are each contributing funds and working together with Justice Matters to secure the requisite funding on a pilot-project basis with an eye toward strong evaluation. Justice Matters has approached the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Endowment Association and the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund to support this endeavor. These funds will be used directly to support training of professional educators, visiting nurses, etc.

Justice Matters, the organization and staff, will not benefit from this funding.

About Trauma Smart

The Trauma Smart model was developed by Crittenton Children’s Center in Kansas City, Missouri, to provide a more comprehensive response to the wide range of traumatic experiences impacting children and the adults in their lives.  Crittenton is part of St. Luke’s Health System and has been caring for the emotional and behavioral health needs of children and families in the Kansas City region for over a century. 

The Trauma Smart model is founded on evidence-based interventions recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network to be effective in helping children and the adults who care for them effectively address the negative impact of violence and trauma.  The model prepares children for social and academic success, improves the work environment for teachers and school personnel, and provides both children and adults specific tools and strategies to build personal and collective resilience. 

Trauma Smart began implementation in 2010 in one Head Start program in Kansas and has since expanded to 3,300 Head Start children annually in 26 counties in Kansas and Missouri.  The program has gained national attention and has grown beyond Head Start and into communities in New York, Washington and Wisconsin, as well as the Shawnee Mission School District. 

Outcomes:  All sites have seen at least a 50 percent decrease in referrals outside the program by Year 2.  Additionally, 100 percent of children who are withdrawn and disengaged and 61 percent with aggressive behavior move from a clinical to normal behavioral range by kindergarten entry.  More information can be found at the Trauma Smart website ( .

Trauma Smart in Lawrence

The Childhood Trauma Research Group of Justice Matters in Lawrence first visited Crittenton in the spring of 2015 to learn about Trauma Smart.   Subsequently, representatives of the school district and Head Start made a second visit and further explored the model and its potential benefits for Lawrence.   Crittenton will train a cohort of up to 50 participants, which would provide space for the Head Start staff (15), Kennedy Elementary preschool  (20 teachers and paras) and up to 15 additional persons.  Douglas County Child Development Association also plans for child care center staff and mental health consultants to participate. 

Trauma Smart® costs for this project would be $85,000, including:

  • Ten monthly 2-hour Trauma Smart® training sessions plus all related materials
  • Coaching and consultation for classroom staff
  • Parent engagement training, also including materials

Next Steps in Addressing Childhood Trauma

In addition to implementing (and expanding) trauma and resilience training, Justice Matters is already working with LMH staff and physicians to explore an assessment program for expecting and new parents using an ACEs-based survey. 

For more background on the impact of Childhood Trauma, check out: