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Figure.
CONSORT Flowchart Describing Progress of Participants Through the Study
CONSORT Flowchart Describing Progress of Participants Through the Study
Table 1.  
Baseline Characteristics of Study Participants
Baseline Characteristics of Study Participants
Table 2.  
Effect of Enhancing Trauma Awareness Course on Measures of Relationship Quality, Relational Capacities, and Health and Well-being
Effect of Enhancing Trauma Awareness Course on Measures of Relationship Quality, Relational Capacities, and Health and Well-being
Table 3.  
Qualitative Themes Mapping Onto the Conceptual Framework
Qualitative Themes Mapping Onto the Conceptual Framework
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Anda  RF, Felitti  VJ, Bremner  JD,  et al.  The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood: a convergence of evidence from neurobiology and epidemiology.  Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2006;256(3):174-186. doi:10.1007/s00406-005-0624-4PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
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Lê-Scherban  F, Wang  X, Boyle-Steed  KH, Pachter  LM.  Intergenerational associations of parent adverse childhood experiences and child health outcomes.  Pediatrics. 2018;141(6):1-9. doi:10.1542/peds.2017-4274PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
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Randell  KA, O’Malley  D, Dowd  MD.  Association of parental adverse childhood experiences and current child adversity.  JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(8):786-787. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.0269PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
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Halfon  N, Larson  K, Son  J, Lu  M, Bethell  C.  Income inequality and the differential effect of adverse childhood experiences in US children.  Acad Pediatr. 2017;17(7S):S70-S78. doi:10.1016/j.acap.2016.11.007PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
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Shonkoff  JP, Garner  AS; Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health; Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care; Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.  The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress.  Pediatrics. 2012;129(1):e232-e246. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2663PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
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National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Essentials for childhood: steps to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/essentials_for_childhood_framework.pdf. Accessed January 16, 2019.
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Valent  P. Survival strategies: a framework for understanding secondary traumatic stress and coping in helpers. In: Figley  CR, ed.  Compassion Fatigue: Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized. New York, NY: Routledge; 2015:21-50.
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Geller  SM, Porges  SW.  Therapeutic presence: neurophysiological mechanisms mediating feeling safe in therapeutic relationships.  J Psychother Integration. 2014;24(3):178-192. doi:10.1037/a0037511Google ScholarCrossref
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Bloom  SL.  Creating Sanctuary: Toward the Evolution of Sane Societies. Revised ed. New York, NY: Routledge; 2013.
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Van der Kolk  BA.  Developmental trauma disorder: toward a rational diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories.  Psychiatr Ann. 2005;35(5):401-408. doi:10.3928/00485713-20050501-06Google ScholarCrossref
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Herman  JL.  Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence: From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York, NY: Basic Books; 2015.
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Bath  H.  The three pillars of trauma-informed care.  Reclaiming Child Youth. 2008;17(3):17-21. https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/cxl/backup/prod/cxl/gklugiewicz/media/507188fa-30b7-8fd4-aa5f-ca6bb629a442.pdf. Accessed March 20, 2019.Google Scholar
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Whitaker  RC, Dearth-Wesley  T, Gooze  RA.  Workplace stress and the quality of teacher–children relationships in Head Start.  Early Child Res Q. 2015;30(pt A):57-69. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2014.08.008Google ScholarCrossref
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Bynum  L, Griffin  T, Riding  D,  et al; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Adverse childhood experiences reported by adults: five states, 2009.  MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2010;59(49):1609-1613.PubMedGoogle Scholar
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Crable  AR, Underwood  LA, Parks-Savage  A, Maclin  V.  An examination of a gender-specific and trauma-informed training curriculum: implications for providers.  Int J Behav Consult Ther. 2013;7(4):30-37. doi:10.1037/h0100964Google ScholarCrossref
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    Views 1,972
    Original Investigation
    Pediatrics
    April 26, 2019

    Effect of a Trauma-Awareness Course on Teachers’ Perceptions of Conflict With Preschool-Aged Children From Low-Income Urban Households: A Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial

    Author Affiliations
    • 1Columbia-Bassett Program, Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, New York
    • 2Columbia-Bassett Program, Bassett Medical Center, Cooperstown, New York
    • 3Bassett Research Institute, Bassett Medical Center, Cooperstown, New York
    • 4Previously affiliated with Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Center for Obesity Research and Education, College of Public Health, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    • 5Now affiliated with College of Medicine, State University of New York Upstate Medical University, Syracuse
    • 6School of Social Work, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(4):e193193. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.3193
    Key Points español 中文 (chinese)

    Question  Does a 6-session professional development course on trauma-informed care improve the quality of the relationships between early childhood teachers and children in their classrooms?

    Findings  A cluster randomized clinical trial with 96 teachers found that a course on trauma-informed care did not reduce teachers’ perception of conflict with preschool-aged children. However, in focus group interviews, teachers’ reports suggested improvements in the quality of teacher-children relationships and teachers’ relational capacities, such as empathy, emotion regulation, and dispositional mindfulness.

    Meaning  The course had no effect on the primary outcome of teacher-children conflict, yet qualitative assessments suggested the potential for improved teacher-children relationship quality.

    Abstract

    Importance  Adverse childhood experiences are common and are associated with changes in early development and learning, but training early childhood educators in trauma-informed approaches to care has not been evaluated with randomized clinical trials.

    Objective  To determine whether a 6-session (12-week) professional development course, “Enhancing Trauma Awareness,” improved the quality of teachers’ relationships with the children in their classrooms.

    Design, Setting, and Participants  This cluster randomized clinical trial conducted from September 2017 to May 2018 allocated classrooms by a computer-generated random sequence to intervention (attend Enhancing Trauma Awareness course) and control (no course) groups. Outcomes were reported by participants via survey and analyzed by group allocation. Classrooms under the auspice of the School District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, serving 3- and 4-year-old children living in low-income households were invited to participate. Lead and/or assistant teachers from 63 of 348 eligible classrooms (18.1%) agreed to participate, and none were excluded. Of 96 enrolled teachers, 93 (96.9%) were assessed at follow-up (61 of 63 classrooms [96.8%]).

    Exposures  In September 2017, 32 classrooms (48 teachers) were assigned to receive a professional development course that taught about the effects of trauma using a group-based relational process, and 31 classrooms (48 teachers) received no intervention. Teachers completed online surveys immediately before and after the course. Exploratory focus groups with intervention teachers (n = 15) were conducted 5 months after the course ended.

    Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome was teacher-children relationship quality, with a hypothesized decrease in teacher-children conflict scores. Secondary outcomes included relational capacities (eg, empathy, emotion regulation, and dispositional mindfulness). Focus group themes described teachers’ experience of the course.

    Results  Of 96 teachers enrolled, 93 (96.9%) were women, and 58 (60.4%) were 40 years and older. Follow-up surveys were completed by 46 teachers (95.8%) in the control group and 47 (97.9%) in the intervention group, of whom 38 (79.2%) attended 4 or more course sessions. Adjusting for baseline values, mean (SE) conflict scores after the course were not significantly different between course participants (15.8 [0.6]) and controls (15.0 [0.6]) (effect size = 0.16; 95% CI, −0.19 to 0.52). There were no significant between-group differences in secondary outcomes. However, in focus groups, the teachers reported improvements in teacher-children relationship quality and several related relational capacities.

    Conclusions and Relevance  A course to enhance trauma awareness among preschool teachers did not reduce teacher-children conflict scores, yet qualitative assessments suggested the potential for improved teacher-children relationship quality.

    Trial Registration  ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT03303482

    Introduction

    Life events or circumstances can be considered traumas when they are experienced by an individual as harmful or threatening and have lasting adverse effects on functioning and well-being.1 Many adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse and neglect, can be traumatic.2 Trauma-informed care, whether delivered through health care, human services, or education, refers to supportive ways of engaging people who may have had traumatic experiences.1 A broad range of activities can be considered part of trauma-informed care,3 and training and workforce development are integral parts of implementing such care.1 However, evidence is lacking about effective approaches to staff training. A review of the literature published since 2000 identified fewer than 25 evaluations of trauma-informed organizational interventions that included staff trainings.4 Only 4 of these evaluations were randomized clinical trials. Limited inferences could be made about the impact of staff trainings because the evaluations often involved questionnaires developed by those who created the trainings, had only short-term follow-up, used single-group designs, and/or could not separate the effects of staff training from other concurrent organizational interventions.

    Much is understood about ACEs—their lifelong impacts on health and functioning,5,6 the sociobiologic mechanisms of these impacts,7,8 the societal costs,9 the intergenerational transmission,10,11 and the disproportionate burden on children living in poverty.12 These observations suggest that early childhood education programs serving low-income children may be a strategic place to implement trauma-informed approaches that could benefit children, families, and staff. Preschool-aged children experiencing trauma have impaired self-regulation, negative emotions, and disruptive behaviors that can interfere with learning and, in turn, later health.13 To develop the self-regulation needed for learning, children must have safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with adults,14 and to form these relationships, these adults must understand the role of trauma in their lives and the lives of children.15 The changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that may arise from professional development courses to increase trauma awareness could contribute to a greater sense of safety in the relationship between teacher and child.16,17 Such relational safety may also increase the effectiveness of interactions between social service professionals18 and clients as well as between health care professionals and patients.3

    We independently evaluated the effects of a professional development course on trauma-informed care among preschool teachers in classrooms serving children living in low-income, urban households. The course was hypothesized to increase the quality of relationships between teachers and the children as measured by a reduction in perceived conflict between them. Secondary outcomes included changes in teachers’ reports of their relational capacities and health and well-being.

    Methods

    In this cluster randomized clinical trial, each cluster was a preschool classroom, which was the unit of random assignment. Each cluster consisted of up to 2 persons—the lead teacher, the assistant teacher, or both, depending on who agreed to participate. A cluster design was chosen because the classroom lead and assistant teachers were intended to learn and interact as a pair during the professional development course being evaluated. This design supported a common structure in preschool classrooms in which 2 teachers work as partners in their daily interactions with children and parents. In September 2017, classrooms were randomly allocated, in a 1:1 ratio to the intervention group (Enhancing Trauma Awareness [ETA] course) or to the control group (no course). In February 2018, after the intervention period, teachers in the control group were offered ETA.

    The primary effect of the intervention was assessed with data from online surveys of the teachers, and these outcomes were analyzed at the level of the teacher and accounted for clustering. No data were collected from children. In exploratory analyses, we used qualitative data from focus groups to understand how the course was experienced by the teachers who took it and the trainers who delivered it. The study protocol was approved by the institutional review boards of Temple University and the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital as well as the Research Review Committee of the School District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Written informed consent to participate in the trial was obtained from individual teachers before random assignment of classrooms. This study followed the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) reporting guideline. The trial protocol is available in Supplement 1.

    Preschool classrooms, under the auspice of the School District of Philadelphia, were eligible if they were located in centers (sites) that served 3- and 4-year-old children, exclusively funded by the federal Head Start program (income eligibility <100% of the federal poverty level) or the Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts program (income eligibility ≤300% of the federal poverty level). There were 348 eligible classrooms (696 teachers) across 133 sites. Each classroom had 20 children. We planned to enroll a single classroom per site with the lead and assistant teachers from that classroom; however, to achieve adequate sample size, teachers were permitted to enroll alone, and sites were permitted to enroll more than 1 classroom. Although 26 sites enrolled more than 1 classroom, only 8 sites had teachers in both the intervention and control groups after random assignment.

    Given the availability of course trainers, up to 128 teachers could be recruited to the trial. This number was estimated to be sufficient to detect moderate mean differences in outcomes between intervention and control groups (effect size = 0.50), assuming 2 teachers per cluster, an intracluster correlation coefficient of 0.20,19 baseline variation in the outcome measure accounting for 50% of the variation at follow-up, an α of .05, and a power of 80%.

    During the first 3 weeks of the 2017 to 2018 school year, all eligible teachers were notified about the study by their supervisors. Interested teachers visited a website to complete consent and recruitment. The study coordinator (A.N.H.) enrolled classrooms and notified teachers of their random group assignment, but the assignment was made by the study analyst (T.D.-W.). The coordinator submitted identification numbers of consecutively enrolled classrooms to the analyst in batches of 2 or more. Using Stata version 13 (StataCorp), the analyst assigned a randomly generated number to each classroom and placed classrooms in each batch in descending order of their random number. Classrooms on this list were assigned alternating values X or Y, reordered by classroom identification number, and returned to the coordinator. The analyst remained masked to which letter designated the intervention group.

    Intervention

    The ETA course content, process, trainer preparation, and quality control are described in eAppendix 1 in Supplement 2. The course was taught in 6 sessions over the 12-week intervention period (2.5 hours every other week). The course was offered at 4 locations, with groups ranging in size from 9 to 16 teachers. Teachers were allowed to take the course at the most convenient location but were required to be in the same location as their coteacher and attend all sessions with the same group. There were 9 course trainers (2 assigned to each location and 1 substitute).

    The course content, based on current theories of trauma and recovery,17,20-25 provided knowledge about the nature of trauma and how it can affect people’s emotions, behaviors, and biology. The course also taught basic skills for responding in a helpful manner to those who might be affected by trauma. Enhancing Trauma Awareness was designed to have a relational process based on the theories and techniques of group process,26 active learning,27 and adult learning,28 allowing participants to reflect on and apply the knowledge acquired. The trainers created a supportive emotional climate to help participants feel safe, respected, and nurtured. To preserve that climate, the evaluators did not directly observe or videotape ETA sessions. Attendance was recorded by the trainers.

    Primary Outcome Evaluation

    Data were obtained from validated self-report items and instruments compiled into an online survey that was repeated for all teachers at 3 times: (1) baseline (late September to early October 2017, immediately before the intervention), (2) follow-up (December 2017, immediately after the intervention), and (3) delayed follow-up (early May 2018, 5 months after the end of the fall intervention and immediately after control teachers completed the course). Selection of survey measures was guided by a conceptual framework (eFigure in Supplement 2) with 3 outcome domains (relational capacities, health and well-being, and relationship quality) covering 12 constructs. The prespecified primary outcome was teachers’ perception of conflict in their relationships with children in their classrooms. We hypothesized that following the intervention, teacher-children conflict, a construct in the domain of relationship quality, would be lower in the intervention group than in the control group. The teacher-children conflict score was based on an 8-item scale adapted from the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale, Short Form29,30 (eTable 1 in Supplement 2). This modified version of the conflict scale required teachers to reflect on their classroom as a whole rather than selecting a particular child in the class.30 There were 21 additional prespecified secondary outcomes (eTable 1 in Supplement 2) measured across the remaining 11 constructs. Sociodemographic data were collected in an online survey at enrollment that also included 4 measures of economic hardship, described elsewhere.30 The teachers answered items in the baseline survey about whether they had exposure to ACEs.31-33

    Statistical Analysis

    Outcomes were analyzed according to group allocation using Stata version 13 (StataCorp). Linear and logistic mixed-effects models were used to examine intervention and control group differences in the outcomes. For each model, the covariance structure was independent, and the unit of analysis was the teacher, with 2 nested levels of clustering (classrooms and sites). The fixed effects in the model were study group and the baseline measure for the outcome of interest. For outcomes, adjusted mean differences between the intervention and control group at follow-up were determined from linear models, while standardized prevalence differences at follow-up were determined from logistic models. Effect-size measures were derived in linear models34 and in logistic models from odds ratios. A significance threshold of P < .05 from 2-sided testing was used.

    Exploratory Focus Group Evaluation

    The focus groups were exploratory and planned after the intervention began, when additional evaluation resources became available. We used these data to explore effects that may not have been adequately captured by closed-ended survey questions, especially intrapersonal and interpersonal processes and outcomes, and to assess the fidelity of intervention implementation. Three 90-minute focus groups were held approximately 5 months after the intervention: 2 involving 15 teachers in the intervention group, and 1 involving all 9 ETA trainers (eAppendix 2 in Supplement 2).

    Three of us (S.B.B., E.L.M., and A.M.S.) independently developed a list of codes describing recurring ideas in the focus group transcripts and then agreed on a consensus code list for the teacher (20 codes) and the trainer (15 codes) focus groups. A code was designated as a theme (11 for teachers and 10 for trainers) if more than half of the focus group participants made at least 1 comment to which that code was applied. Two of us (R.C.W. and A.N.H.) identified teacher themes that supported 1 or more outcome constructs in the conceptual framework (eFigure in Supplement 2) and any teacher or trainer themes that supported implementation fidelity for the ETA curriculum.

    Results

    Overall, 96 teachers (93 [96.9%] women; 58 [60.4%] aged ≥ 40 years) from 63 classrooms (38 sites) agreed to participate (Figure). The neighborhood characteristics for the 38 sites with participating teachers were similar to those of the 95 eligible sites without participating teachers (eTable 2 in Supplement 2). During randomization, 32 classrooms (48 teachers) were allocated to the intervention group and 31 classrooms (48 teachers) to the control group. Both lead and assistant teachers participated in 33 of 63 classrooms (52.4%). There was 1 participating teacher in 16 intervention classrooms (6 with lead teacher only and 10 with assistant teacher only) and in 14 control classrooms (6 with lead teacher only and 8 with assistant teacher only). The follow-up survey was completed by 47 teachers (97.9%) in the intervention group and 46 teachers (95.8%) in the control group. Overall, 93 of 96 teachers (96.9%; 61 of 63 classrooms [96.8%]) completed the survey (Figure). The 3 teachers with missing follow-up data (2 control teachers and 1 intervention teacher) were excluded from the impact analyses. Of 7 teachers (4 lead and 3 assistant) in the intervention group who attended no ETA sessions, 6 completed the follow-up survey, and their outcome data were analyzed along with others in the intervention group.

    Of 96 teachers enrolled, 48 (49.9%) had at least a bachelor’s degree (Table 1); 35 (36.5%) reported having 3 or more categories of ACEs; 51 (53.1%) had children of their own who had attended Head Start, and 31 (33.0%) reported not having enough money to pay their full utility bill sometime in the prior 12 months. Of 48 teachers assigned to the intervention, 38 (79.2%) attended 4 or more of the 6 ETA sessions and 7 (14.6%) attended no sessions. No harms were reported.

    Primary Outcome Evaluation

    Adjusting for baseline values, conflict scores following the intervention did not differ significantly between the intervention and control groups (Table 2). The adjusted mean (SE) conflict scores tended to be higher for those randomly assigned to the intervention than for controls (15.8 [0.6] vs 15.0 [0.6]; effect size = 0.16; 95% CI, −0.19 to 0.52). There were no statistically significant effects of the intervention on relational trust with other adults (3 outcomes), nor were there significant effects in the domains of relational capacity (8 outcomes) or health and well-being (10 outcomes) (Table 2).

    Secondary Analysis

    This study was not designed to examine the effect of the intervention on subgroups, so subgroup analyses were not specified before the trial and were exploratory. The effect of the intervention on conflict scores did not differ significantly between teacher subgroups defined on the following binary (yes/no) characteristics (eTable 3 in Supplement 2): worked in a site with both intervention and control classrooms (yes: adjusted mean difference [MD], 0.5; 95% CI, −2.1 to 3.2; no: MD, 0.6; 95% CI, −1.4 to 2.6; P = .89); lead teacher (yes: MD, −0.05; 95% CI, −2.1 to 2.0; no: MD, 1.1; 95% CI, −0.9 to 3.1; P = .43); more than 15 years of early childhood teaching experience (yes: MD, 0.5; 95% CI, −1.7 to 2.8; no: MD, 0.6; 95% CI, −1.5 to 2.8; P = .95); 3 or more ACEs (yes: MD, 1.0; 95% CI, −1.0 to 3.0; no: MD, 0.3; 95% CI, −1.8 to 2.3; P = .61); and worked in a Head Start classroom (yes: MD, 1.8; 95% CI, −0.3 to 3.8; no: MD, −0.6; 95% CI, −3.0 to 1.8; P = .16). However, the effect of the intervention on conflict scores differed significantly by teacher education level. After exposure to ETA, teachers with less than a bachelor’s degree had significantly more conflict (MD, 2.5; 95% CI, 0.4 to 4.6), while those with more education tended to have less conflict (MD, −1.3; 95% CI, −3.2 to 0.5) after taking the course (P = .01).

    At delayed follow-up, there were no statistically significant effects of the intervention on conflict scores or any secondary outcomes (eTable 4 in Supplement 2). The changes between baseline and delayed follow-up were similar between those in the intervention group who participated in the focus groups and those who did not (eTable 5 in Supplement 2).

    Exploratory Focus Group Evaluation

    The outcomes in our conceptual model (eFigure in Supplement 2) were supported by 7 of 11 teacher themes in the focus groups (Table 3; eTable 6 in Supplement 2). The teachers’ comments in the focus groups suggested that ETA helped with the quality of their relationships with children and parents and that after taking the course teachers had greater empathy, emotion regulation, and mindfulness as well as improved attitudes related to trauma-informed care. Describing the course as a healing process, teachers reported that they became aware of the effects of trauma in their own lives and thereby developed greater empathy for children and parents. After taking the course, teachers viewed more of children’s experiences as being potentially traumatic and more often recognized the potential effect of trauma in their nonwork relationships. Teachers reported that they acquired skills in responding compassionately to challenging situations at school that may have arisen from trauma outside of school. Teachers reported on their new abilities to step back, maintain a calm presence in the moment, and avoid interpreting the challenging behaviors of children or parents as reflecting poorly on teacher performance. In addition, teachers mentioned taking care of themselves as a way to better regulate their emotions and, in turn, to create emotionally safe classrooms characterized by less conflict and more nurturance and support.

    Overall, 6 of 11 teacher themes and 6 of 10 trainer themes supported the implementation fidelity of ETA (eAppendix 3 in Supplement 2). Teachers reported that the course content helped them reconceptualize trauma, increasing their awareness that teachers, children, and families had all experienced trauma. Teachers’ awareness of their own trauma was facilitated in the course by what both teachers and trainers described as a supportive emotional climate characterized by nurturance and respect. This climate allowed teachers to safely share and apply the information learned in the course. The cotrainers modeled for the teachers the relational capacities necessary for teachers to transform their own relationships and express more compassion toward others and themselves.

    Discussion

    In a randomized clinical trial, we evaluated a 6-session professional development course to increase trauma-informed care among preschool teachers working with low-income children and families. We found no significant effects of the course on reducing teacher-children conflict scores or on the secondary outcomes assessing teachers’ relational capacities or their health and well-being.

    The focus group evaluation was exploratory, involved only 15 of 41 teachers (36.6%) who received the intervention, and was not intended to have a control or comparison group. With these limitations in mind, the themes from the focus groups suggested that after taking the course the teachers believed that they experienced improvements in the quality of their relationships with children. Teachers described a healing process of becoming aware of the effect of trauma in their own lives and thereby developing greater empathy for children and parents. Teachers reported that these shifts in their perspectives led them to create more emotionally safe classrooms by remaining calmer and more mindful in the face of children’s challenging behaviors that may have reflected trauma.

    In a systematic review of trauma-informed organizational changes that included staff trainings, only 4 randomized clinical trials were identified, and none were in educational settings.4 In 2 trials with inpatient psychiatric staff, no impact of staff training on staff trauma sensitivity35 or knowledge about traumatic stress36 was found. In a third trial with 148 outpatient staff at a clinic treating substance use disorders,37 there was an increase in staff knowledge of trauma and confidence in asking about trauma, but there was a low follow-up rate in both study groups. Finally, in a trial with 30 primary care physicians, there were positive impacts on patient-physician relationship quality, as measured by patients’ perceptions of more shared decision making with their physicians38 and more patient centeredness on direct observation.39 The only reviewed study that was in an educational setting40 involved multiple trauma-informed interventions (including staff trainings) in a single elementary school without a control group or staff assessments.

    We can only speculate about why we obtained different results from the survey and focus group data. Compared with reporting in an online survey, teachers may have been more likely to report positively about the intervention during focus groups. Focus group participants may have been a biased sample among those assigned to the intervention, and the focus groups were conducted 5 months after the intervention. However, we found similar survey-based outcomes in focus group and non–focus group participants 5 months after the intervention. In interventions that aim to increase trauma-informed care, some meaningful and enduring effects may not be captured by surveys. The change a person experiences as a result of an intervention might only be captured through a narrative about how their specific relationships change over time. Furthermore, this expression of change might only be possible in a group in which emotional safety has already been established and/or in which the story of change emerges in a dialogue with others who have experienced similar changes.

    Limitations

    The trial had design limitations. There was no masking of participants, no active control group, and all survey outcomes were self-reported. We may have obtained different results if the teachers had completed the conflict scale for individual students29 rather than for the class as an aggregate.30 We recruited fewer teachers for the trial than planned, but the observed effect size of the primary outcome was still much smaller than the planned minimal detectable effect size. Approximately one-third of the participants were not from a classroom where both teachers participated, so some of the teacher data were not clustered at the classroom level. The control group was offered ETA in the same year as the intervention group, so there was no untreated comparison group in the delayed follow-up survey. We did not conduct classroom observations. However, in the exploratory focus groups, the teachers described a shift in their internal experience of relationships, and the behavioral manifestations of such changes may have been difficult to observe. Finally, interventions to institute trauma-informed practices may have greater effects if they involve the entire organization, including supervisors, and change the way individuals in organizations relate to each other.17

    Conclusions

    In this trial, a professional development course to enhance trauma awareness among preschool teachers did not change their perceptions of conflict with children in their classrooms. Future research on professional development courses to increase trauma-informed care may benefit from using both quantitative and qualitative assessments, including data collected from those receiving services. Although changes in attitudes may be a legitimate goal for professional development courses, changes in behavior and relationship quality may require more sustained training, involving skill acquisition through practice and coaching. Approaches are also needed to sensitively identify when or if professionals are ready to participate in courses like ETA or how any individual will respond to a course that may make them become aware of their own traumatic experiences. Therefore, priority must be given to the training of those delivering such courses, so that the courses combine trauma knowledge with a relational process that provides safety for participants.

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    Article Information

    Accepted for Publication: March 14, 2019

    Published: April 26, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.3193

    Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2019 Whitaker RC et al. JAMA Network Open.

    Corresponding Author: Robert C. Whitaker, MD, MPH, Columbia-Bassett Program, 1 Atwell Rd, Cooperstown, NY 13326 (robert.whitaker@bassett.org).

    Author Contributions: Dr Whitaker had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

    Concept and design: Whitaker.

    Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.

    Drafting of the manuscript: Whitaker, Herman, Dearth-Wesley.

    Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.

    Statistical analysis: Whitaker, Dearth-Wesley, Kainz.

    Obtained funding: Whitaker.

    Administrative, technical, or material support: Whitaker, Herman, Smith.

    Supervision: Whitaker, Herman.

    Qualitative Analysis: Whitaker, Herman, Burnim, Myers, Saunders.

    Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Whitaker reported receiving an honorarium from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for serving as a member of its advisory group on Trauma-Informed Policies and Practices. No other disclosures were reported.

    Funding/Support: Support for this study was provided by the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. Mr Burnim and Mss Myers and Saunders were supported by a research stipend from the Columbia-Bassett Program and Bassett Research Institute.

    Role of the Funder/Sponsor: Neither United Way nor Lakeside Global Institute (developers of the Enhancing Trauma Awareness course) had any role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

    Disclaimer: The inclusion of the School District of Philadelphia’s name in this publication does not imply its support, endorsement, or approval of the findings, conclusions, or other contents of this work.

    Data Sharing Statement: See Supplement 3.

    Additional Contributions: We acknowledge Joy Diljohn, MEd, and Michelle Linder-Coates, MEd, of the School District of Philadelphia, for their assistance with participant recruitment. They were not compensated for their time. We thank the teachers who participated in the trial and the trainers of the Enhancing Trauma Awareness course.

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