We Can! Testing a Trauma-Informed Care Training in Iowa Elementary Schools

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Quasi-experimental repeated measure, Trauma-informed practices, School climate

District Partner

  • College

Project Duration

From 2016 to 2017

Background and Purpose

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)—including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, having a parent with a mental illness, and separation from a parent due to incarceration, death, domestic violence, substance use, or divorce—impact children early on in their development. There is a pronounced effect on their health and educational outcomes. In Iowa, an estimated 33% of all children will experience 1 or 2 ACEs before the age of 18 with 12% experiencing 3 or more as measured by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.

Past findings demonstrated that exposure to ACEs was a principal predictor of behavioral and attendance problems at school and the second biggest predictor of academic failure. As a universal system that serves the majority of children, elementary schools provide an opportunity to improve student success through trauma-informed care practices.

This project studied We Can!: An Educator's Guide to Trauma-Informed Practice, a trauma-informed intervention, across multiple elementary schools in Eastern Iowa. The project's principal investigators developed We Can! with an Iowa elementary school principal and school counselor. The intervention was delivered to all teachers and paraprofessionals in all five elementary schools in the College Community School District.

The researchers conducted a quasi-experimental repeated measures study. This project employed qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the influence of the trainings on:

  • increasing awareness and knowledge of trauma and trauma-informed practices in the elementary setting
  • improving school climate and culture; and
  • decreasing undesirable student behaviors.

Results were disseminated locally and nationally with implications for teachers, school counselors, school administrators, and policymakers. This project continued to build the foundation of an evidence-based intervention that can be implemented in all Iowa schools.


  • Teachers and paraprofessionals who received training  showed significant increases in their understanding of trauma's effect on students' behavior
  • There was also an increase in teachers' knowledge of skills to use when working with students who had experienced trauma 
  • Schools that participated in this study showed significant increases in companionship, cooperation, and worker satisfaction among the staff compared to schools in the district that did not participate in the project

Resulting Publications

Follow-On Grants 


Carol Smith Picture
Smith, Carol K.

Clinical Associate Professor, University of Iowa

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Wojciak, Armeda S.

Assistant Professor, University of Iowa