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An Innovative Approach to Overcoming Childhood Trauma

Created by the Crittenton Children’s Center, Trauma Smart is an innovative practice model designed to address the high incidence of complex trauma that negatively impacts children’s lives. The model is currently provided in Head Start preschool programs in 26 counties in the Kansas City metro area and across Missouri, and includes around 3,200 children annually. Crittenton has been providing mental health services for individual children in Head Start programs for over 20 years. Trauma Smart was developed out of this long history of work, after recognizing the need for a more comprehensive response to the wide range of traumatic experiences impacting children and the adults in their lives. We believe that every child deserves the opportunity to learn and grow in a safe and nurturing environment. Trauma Smart helps preschool children, and the adults who care for them, calmly navigate difficult life challenges. We pair practical, hands-on tools with effective coping strategies and bring them into the places where kids learn and play every day.

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“Teaching Children to Calm Themselves”


When Luke gets angry, he tries to remember to look at his bracelet. It reminds him of what he can do to calm himself: stop, take a deep breath, count to four, give yourself a hug and, if necessary, ask an adult for help.

Luke is 5 and he has been practicing these steps for half a year at school and at home, thanks to a program called Head Start Trauma Smart that currently serves some 3,300 children annually in 26 counties in Kansas and Missouri. “We used to have to do these steps four or five times a day,” said Connie, his grandmother (who requested that I change her grandson’s name and omit her surname). “Now we’re down to four or five times a week.”

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“KC’s Trauma Smart Program Recognized Nationally For Helping Young Children”

This is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. The federal agency that focuses on mental health today recognized a Kansas City program. Trauma Smart helps pre-school kids who’ve already had bad experiences in life.

It’s noisy in a classroom at the YMCA Thomas Roque Head Start. But temper tantrums? A teacher says you won’t see as many as you used to.

“Instead of lashing out, they’re more like they want to talk about it,” said Gina Johnson.

Johnson thinks it’s calmer because of Trauma Smart, a program that recognizes children’s behavioral health problems are often rooted in traumatic experiences. Three out of four kids in Kansas City Head Starts have already had at least one bad event such as their parents’ divorce or witnessing violence or substance abuse.

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“Giving Traumatized Kids a Head Start in Healing”

Every year, thousands of children in the U.S. are expelled from school before they reach Kindergarten. Special correspondent Molly Knight Raskin reports on a program in Kansas City, Missouri, that’s trying to stem the trend by looking beyond the classroom to the issues these children face at home — and helping them to feel safe.