Approximately 1 in 6 Ohio children live in Appalachia exposed to higher rates of child poverty (26.7%) than nationally (22.2%), where 15.4 per 1000 live births of babies are born exposed to opiate drugs (Children’s Defense Fund, 2018). This has created a growing need to integrate trauma informed interventions into early education settings. The Swamp School was developed to fill such gap by supporting preschool teachers need for early identification of risk through a curriculum designed to teach preschool children social emotional skills and prevent more serious child behavior problems. The curriculum is delivered through puppetry, books, print materials and movement to model, teach and practice social-emotional skills. This presentation reports on the effectiveness of Swamp School on social emotional competence in young children compared to usual care, and the difference in teacher’s attitudes related to self-control, relationships, internal beliefs and initiative between intervention and control groups.
Methods: A convenience sample of 74 preschool classrooms across 11 Appalachian Ohio counties were recruited and assigned to either Swamp School (n=65 teachers, n=533 children) or care as usual (n= 44 teachers, n=322 children). At baseline, teachers in the intervention group received 8 hours of training and were provided with Swamp School kit. Teachers delivered the social emotional curriculum once a week in their classroom, and received on-going support from a mental health consultant with self-identified personal goals. Teachers in usual care received universal mental health consultation from a licensed mental health professional. Changes in preschool children’s social-emotional competence and teachers’ self-reported resiliency attitudes were measured by the standardized teacher rating scale, Devereux Early Childhood Assessment for Preschoolers, Second Edition (DECA-P2) and Devereux Adult Resiliency Survey (DARS) before and after the intervention.
Results: The Paired-samples t-test shows that children’s resiliency scores from pre-to-post intervention were more pronounced in the intervention group (d =0.4, p <.05) with over all mean levels of positive behaviors increasing by at least 3 t-scores, showing a strong and statistically significant change. Children who received Swamp School had greater positive change in self-regulation((M= 56.8, SD=8.6), p <.05, d =0.3) compared to the control group ((M= 53.6, SD=7.5), p <.05, d =0.2). For teachers in the intervention group, self-reported measures of initiative and self-control showed a steep improvement and attitudes on relationships stayed the same; whereas for teachers in the control group relationships showed significant improvement while other resilience variables showed steady increase.
Conclusion and Implications: The study findings show a significant increase in mean positive behaviors across each social-emotional domain for intervention group compared to the control group. Self-reported evaluation of teachers’ resilience also revealed higher initiative and self-control and lower relationship improvements for the intervention group. Swamp School shows promise in providing an inexpensive approach in addressing the social emotional needs of children in resource constrained communities. However, relationships are vital in reducing the negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences and reducing teacher stress, thus future controlled study is needed to strengthen the evidence base for the trauma-informed intervention for preschool settings.