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Parenting with PACEs. PACEs science & stories. Trauma-informed change.

Transforming NJ Child-Care Centers into Nurturing, Trauma Informed & Trauma Sensitive Environments: One non-profit’s successful pilot

With a lot of discussion nationally surrounding the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), trauma and resilience it is certainly a topic that still needs to reach educators and parents alike. A recent survey showed that only 10% of early childhood educators had ever heard of ACES, yet 100% reported wanting more information about how trauma impacts children’s behaviors. While teachers certainly notice behaviors in the classroom, they often feel overwhelmed or unsure of the best way to manage the classroom environment while still connecting with the child.

Starting education at the earliest ages could help the caregivers and parents of children 0-5 support their child’s emotional needs, build resilience, prevent future trauma and improve social-emotional competency that can last a lifetime.

The Child Wellness Institute of New Jersey piloted a new, research-based project called Trauma Transformation Initiative (TTI) with promising results and incredibly positive feedback. Two Camden City childcare centers and one Bridgewater childcare center serving children 0-5 participated in the project that helped all child care staff (including teachers, teacher assistants, food service workers, transportation service staff) as well as the parents at the center to begin their journey in becoming trauma informed.

The program included an initial Program Assessment, a Best Practice Guidebook and on-site Trauma 101 training where staff learned about adverse childhood experiences, toxic stress and trauma on the brain and strategies to use in the classroom. The staff also participated in 3 webinars, a tailored coaching session and ongoing technical assistance along the way.  TTI hosted  on-site parent workshops that taught parents about ACES, their own emotional triggers, ways to help their child identify emotions and learn how to regulate emotions. Calm-down Kits and posters were developed and provided with instructions to the childcare center staff and the parents. The centers also identified staff to continue the workshops after they conclude so the project becomes sustainable. These “champions” were mentored by Child Wellness Institute staff along the way and provided guidance, resources and support.

 Sonia Plaza, Director of the El Centro Communal Child Care Center stated, "This program changed our staff as well as parent's understanding about trauma.  We are now better equipped on handling troubling situations in class.  The class kits have been used frequently.  I have also received great feedback from staff and parents about the trainings and webinars!” 

“Our parents are asking us when we are offering it again! This has been such a valuable addition to our curriculum. A true way to help parents navigate and better understand their child’s temperament, feelings and behaviors. Plus, each parent leaves with practical tools to help their child at home!”, said Christina Andersen, Executive Director of Kiddie Academy of Bridgewater.

Parents were equally impressed. “I learned so much about my own reactions and behaviors; it is amazing. I went through a lot myself as a child and it makes sense how it changes the brain. Now I know how to understand and connect with my child in a healthier way and I have strategies to use. Thank you so much!” said one parent of a 3 year-old boy at El Centro center.

Parents like Heather Danberry feel this program helps use common language at school and home to support her son, Travis. “My son, Travis, began attending Kiddie Academy (of Bridgewater) in September 2018 when he was 2 years old.  Our family had experienced a great deal of change which had a significant impact on him.  In addition to these changes, Travis has a severe speech delay which inhibits his ability to express himself verbally.  The combination of everything led to undesirable behaviors.  With open communication, understanding and his teachers' training through the Trauma Transformation Initiative, Travis has flourished.  His teachers now have a better understanding of how to address his emotions and how to help him better understand them.  The calm down kits, specifically allowing him to blow bubbles or look at the feelings chart have been very helpful.  He loves bubbles and the act of making them allows him to control his breathing which helps calm him down.  The feelings chart is an easy way for him to let his teachers know how he is feeling when he isn't able to verbally express himself.  I am very happy with the positive changes that have occurred and am thankful for the training the teachers received.” 

Did it have an impact?

Initial evaluation results for the childcare center staff found: an improvement in knowledge, positive shift in attitudes related to trauma and intention to change behaviors to become more trauma sensitive. For the parents, results showed increases in knowledge about the impact of trauma on a child and ACES and all were able to identity an intent to change behavior using at least one new strategy. Child Wellness Institute of NJ is currently providing 3-month follow up texting support to teachers and parents to support the messages provided in the project. Initial feedback is showing that the parents are changing to healthier, more positive parenting practices and strategies.

The ARTIC scale (Attitudes Related to Trauma Informed Care) showed marked growth in the centers becoming trauma-informed. Teachers also reported having more confidence in handling challenging behaviors and reported fewer problem incidents in the classroom as a result of learning new strategies.

Three months later and the parents and staff are still reporting that the knowledge and strategies have changed the way they connect with children and support their child’s resilience.

Can any site benefit?

Yes! Trauma Transformation Initiative is currently expanding into additional NJ counties is being adapted for Pre- K-12 school districts and before/after school programs.

Interested? Contact Gina Hernandez:

Together we can all work to transform the ways we connect with children today and for generations to come.

\Calm Down TentCalm Down Corner


Images (2)
  • Calm Down Tent: Katy, teacher at Kiddie Academy of Bridgewater, connects with a child in the Calm Down Tent!
  • Calm Down Corner: Erin, teacher at Kiddie Academy of Bridgewater, displays the Calm Down Corner with the Calm Down Kit and Feelings Thermometer

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