Project SECURE: Keeping Kids Safe within a Trauma-Informed Multi-Tiered System of Support

Project SECURE

SRI Education assessed the impact of Project SECURE, a multitiered evidence-based framework designed to strengthen the resilience of students who are most vulnerable to disciplinary exclusion, gang involvement, and trauma.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, SRI Education conducted a 4-year randomized controlled trial of Project SECURE in partnership with a local school district in Northern California. The objective was to evaluate the efficacy of Second Step, a social-emotional learning program, and Bounce Back, an intervention for children exposed to trauma, in 36 elementary schools in the district. SRI collected school climate surveys completed by teachers, parents, and students; surveyed students and parents to measure students’ social and emotional functioning; and compiled information on students’ academic and behavioral outcomes from school records. SRI researchers analyzed these data to assess the extent to which Second Step and Bounce Back improved students’ academic and behavioral outcomes.

Children react to trauma in various ways, many of which can challenge their relationships at school and their ability to learn. In addition to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma-exposed children may exhibit symptoms of anxiety, depression, dissociation, and impairment in school functioning, including poor grades and high absenteeism. Even subclinical symptoms of trauma, if left untreated, pose a significant risk for the development of other psychiatric disorders with a substantial portion of traumatized youth subsequently developing depression, anxiety, and disruptive behaviors.
This crisis has prompted a call for innovative and research-based approaches for addressing barriers to learning—going beyond explicitly academic interventions and exclusionary discipline practices—to address the learning challenges posed by problematic student behaviors and the methods adults use to respond to them.

Through their Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funded community-driven, innovative solutions to the pervasive school safety issues plaguing our nation’s schools. In 2016, SRI International received a grant from NIJ to implement Project SECURE and a 4-year randomized controlled trial in partnership with a local school district. The overarching goal of Project SECURE was to evaluate the impact of a multitiered evidence-based framework to strengthen the resilience of students who are the most vulnerable to disciplinary exclusion, gang involvement, and trauma. Through Project SECURE, SRI and the school district implemented a primary prevention program and trauma-informed intervention in a majority of the district’s elementary schools while developing a model for replication and expansion that reverses the negative trajectory and boosts the social-emotional and coping skills of all students.

The goal of Project SECURE was to enhance the physical and emotional security of more than 10,000 students in 36 elementary schools in the urban school district by increasing their Safety, Equity, Caring, Understanding, and Resilience. Guided by the principles of evidence-based, multitiered, and responsive support systems, Project SECURE offered universal and targeted interventions (Second Step and Bounce Back, respectively) to enhance school climate and student resilience, improve students’ social-emotional skills, reduce bullying and other behavioral incidences, remediate the devastating effects of trauma, and increase equitable response to discipline and access to services.

SRI Education’s primary objectives to meet this goal were to (1) support the implementation of Second Step, a universal-level intervention, in 36 elementary schools and provide teachers with training and consultation to establish restorative, culturally responsive, and trauma-informed learning environments; (2) support the implementation of Bounce Back, a secondary-level intervention, in 36 elementary schools with grade 4-5 students who have experienced significant traumatic stress; and (3) enhance the existing Citywide Student Assistance Program to triage students and their families with tertiary-level needs and refer them to the appropriate community-based services.

Preliminary findings from the study of Bounce Back indicate that students who received the Bounce Back intervention reported significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety than students in the comparison group. Interestingly, the results were not differentiated by the delivery of Second Step; in other words, there was no “added effect” for students in schools implementing Second Step. These significant reductions in emotional problems are consistent with previous Bounce Back research (Langley et al., 2015; Santiago et al., 2018). Publications are forthcoming once final results have been analyzed.

The study presented here was supported by the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, through Grant 2016-CK-BX-0002. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Justice.

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