Phenomenological Investigation of Early Care and Education Lab with Implementing Trauma-Informed Care

Project Category: Preparing a Highly Qualified 0-3 Workforce 

Cheryl Williams Jackson, Psy.D.
Professor of Child Development
Modesto Junior College

Introduction: California Community Colleges (CCC) offer specialized education to future infant and toddler professionals.  The training at most CCCs provides students with their first experience and exposure to group care with children under 36 months of age through a practicum course.  The practicum courses provide a hands-on experience where students are guided by faculty and a mentoring team. The statewide Curriculum Alignment Project (CAP) provides the direction for course learning outcomes (CLO) for child development education at the CCC campuses.  The CAP infant and toddler coursework recommendations do not include objectives about how caregivers help very young children cope with stress levels (Lieberman & Van Horn, 2008) or the effects of adverse experiences (Felitti, 1998).   Additionally, approaches to address behavior due to adverse experiences (Levine & Kline, 2007; Steele & Malchiodi, 2012; Willard & Saltzman, 2015) are not addressed.  This project explored the integration of these topics to explore “What are the experiences of professionals integrating trauma-informed care approaches into an early care and education laboratory setting for the first time?”

Holmes, Levy, Smith, Pinne, and Neese (2015) stated, “Exposure to potentially traumatic events is an all too common experience for many children” (p. 1650).  The researchers found that preschool-aged children were under-identified as experiencing trauma due to “…misperception that young children are not affected in the same way by trauma” (Holmes, et al., 2015, p. 1657).  There is a need for knowledge building and applied methods that could be shared by caregivers, teachers, student interns, parents, early childhood mental health practitioners, and administrators to address infants and toddlers mental health. Universal precautions that focus on including trauma-informed care for infant and toddler programs are needed.  For this project, a trauma-informed care framework was used to increase teachers/caregivers ability to meet the mental health needs of infants and toddlers.

Methods: A purposive sampling was used to recruit participants from a California central valley community college’s toddler early care and education laboratory school. The participants included instructors (n=2), a master teacher, and interns (n=3). All of the participants were female.  Degrees included MA (n=2), BA (n=1), and AA (n=3).

Participants were asked to complete the Informed Consent.  Next, they completed the Trauma-Informed Care Pre-test before exposure to the training.  The group received training (2-sessions), a Post-Test, and an Interview immediately after each PowerPoint presentation.

A phenomenological study was used to understand participant’s perspectives and understanding of trauma and trauma-informed care in their work setting.  Participants were interviewed concerning their previous knowledge and education on trauma and trauma-informed care, completed a pre/post-test, and participated in the training.

Results: The phenomenological method was chosen to allow caregivers the opportunity to provide input in the process and content of the training on Trauma-Informed Care in an early care setting.  Caregivers often feel disempowered in what is implemented in their programs.  The phenomenological method allowed the caregivers to review the material, experience the training, and share the importance and relevance of the information for integration into their program.  The group shared that the information had been their first exposure to the idea of trauma-informed care.

Discussion: This project revealed that information on stress levels, and trauma-informed care was a missing component of infant and toddler teacher’s education.  Some participants were not aware infants and toddlers could experience trauma. The participants expressed a need to know more about how their current activities with children could address traumatic behavior that exists in their classroom. One participant asked, “If we do not know about this topic, how do I handle triggers that our classroom may cause?”  Lastly, participants found the trainings provided information to understand the trauma-informed care and the strategies that could be put in place to ensure their classrooms and programs provided ongoing supportive trauma-informed policies and practices.

The focus of this project was with one program in a California central valley community college’s toddler early care and education laboratory sites.  Research on trauma-informed care in infants and toddlers programs is lacking. The overall findings were that teachers regardless of their education and years in the field do not feel they are prepared for children and families who have experienced adversity.   Child Development in higher-education must review the educational curricular for the inclusion of trauma information. Future research will need to focus on how well education and training are meeting the needs of our communities in becoming more trauma-informed to support the mental health needs of infants and toddlers.

Cheryl Williams-Jackson, PsyD
435 College Ave.
Modesto, CA 95350
(209) 575-6320


Adams, J. M. (2013). Schools promoting ‘trauma-informed’ teaching to reach troubled students. EdSource: Highlighting Strategies for Student Success. Retrieved March 20, 2016, from

Beeber, L. S., Chazan-Cohen, R., Squires, J., Harden, B. J., Boris, N. W., Heller, S.H, & Malik, N.A. (2007). The early promotion and intervention research consortium (E-PIRC): Five approaches to improving infant/toddler mental health in Early Head Start. Infant Mental Health Journal, 28(2), 130-150.

Beyerlein, B. A., & Bloch, E. (2014). Need for trauma-informed care within the foster care system: A policy issue. Child Welfare, 93(3), 7-21.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design:  Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). SAGE: San Mateo, CA.

Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenber, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M.P., & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245-258.

Freeman, P. A. C. (2014). Prevalence and relationship between adverse childhood experiences and child behavior among young children. Infant Mental Health Journal, 35(4), 544-554.

Holmes, C., Levy, M., Smith, A., Pinne, S., & Neese, P. (2015). A model for creating a supportive trauma-informed culture for children in preschool settings. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(6),1650-1659. doi:10.1007/s10826-014-9968-6.

Hopper, E. K., Bassuk, E. L., & Olivet, J. (2010). Shelter from the storm: Trauma-informed care in homelessness service settings. The Open Health Services and Policy Journal, 3, 80-100.

Kisiel, C. L., Fehrenback, T., Torgersen, E., Stolbach, McClelland, G., Griffin, G., & Burkman, K. (2014). Constellations of interpersonal trauma and symptoms in child welfare: Implications for developmental trauma framework. Journal of Family Violence, 29, 1-14.

Knitzer, J. (2007). Putting knowledge into policy: Toward an infant-toddler policy agenda. Infant Mental Health Journal, 28(2), 237-245. doi:10.1002/imhj.20131

La Paro, K. M., Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2012). Classroom assessment scoring system (CLASS) manual, toddler. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Muskett, C. (2014). Trauma-informed care in inpatient mental health settings:  A review of the literature. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 23, 51-59.

Reyes, V. & Lieberman, A. (2012). Child-parent psychotherapy and traumatic exposure to violence. Zero to Three, 21 – 25.

Shonkoff, J. P., Garner, A. S., McGuinn, L., Pascoe, J., & Wood, D. L. (2012). The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129, 232-246. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2663.

Seidman, I. (2006). Interviewing as qualitative research: A guide for researchers in education and the social sciences. New York: Teachers College Press.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). SAMHSA’s concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4884. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.