Head Start-Trauma Smart

Head Start-Trauma Smart

Combatting the immediate and lifelong negative effects of repeated exposure to violence on children

Head Start-Trauma Smart (HS-TS) is an early childhood trauma intervention model that addresses the effects of complex trauma—such as community and family violence, poverty, illness, and homelessness— for young preschool-age children, their families, and the Head Start teachers who care for them. 

The model gives all Head Start staff and parents training to create calm, connected classrooms and home environments that recognize and address behavioral and other problems triggered by trauma, and provide the supports for children to learn and thrive. 

With the help of a $2.3 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Crittenton Children’s Center in Kansas City is replicating its HS-TS program into urban, suburban, and rural communities throughout Missouri. The expanded program will benefit an estimated 3,265 preschool students in 156 classrooms each year, for the next three years. The consistently positive HSTS outcomes suggest that the program holds promise to become a federally designated best-practice model to benefit the more than 900,000 children in Head Start programs nationwide.


Crittenton Children’s Center

10918 Elm Avenue
Kansas City, MO, 64134



Jane Isaacs Lowe, RWJF senior adviser for program development

"The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is proud to help innovative models like Head Start-Trauma Smart spread to create a different future for more kids and families in need—a future in which children have the support, stability, and resilience they need to succeed in school and grow up healthy." 

Jane Isaacs Lowe, RWJF senior adviser for program development 

.@RWJF grantee Head Start-Trauma Smart helps #preschool students who've experienced childhood #trauma

RWJF Video

Head Start Trauma Smart is a highly successful early childhood trauma intervention program designed by the Crittenton Children's Center in response to the negative impacts of trauma in the lives of preschool children, particularly with regards to academic success. Children ages three to five who have experienced trauma are highly susceptible to emotional, social, and physical problems which can lead to behavioral outbursts and academic difficulties.

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Toxic Stress: An Early Risk to Children's Health


Scientific research shows that young children living in environments with high levels of stress—toxic stress—like maternal depression, intimate partner violence, extreme poverty, or substance abuse—can suffer damage to their developing brains. Disrupting brain architecture at such a young age can lead to academic delays and a lifetime of emotional, behavioral, mental and physical health problems. 

Preschoolers exposed to traumatic stress tend to be chronically hyper-vigilant and fearful, and often exhibit troubling behaviors that are impossible to remediate until the trauma has been addressed. In fact, a large number of children are being expelled from preschools across the country due in large part to such impairment. Additionally, many of the caretakers, parents and teachers in these children’s lives share their traumatizing experiences and/or have their own history of trauma exposure.

To combat the long-lasting adverse effects of trauma, the Head Start-Trauma Smart program serves as a “reset” mechanism that helps adjust the way children and adults alike react to complex, traumatic experiences.

Building Resilience

RWJF is part of a growing network of leaders working to increase awareness and understanding of the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the need to develop effective innovative interventions. 

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