A New Preschool for Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

Two preschool aged boys, smiling, playing on a playground

A new early learning program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is using evidence-based treatments and wraparound child support services to help preschoolers who have experienced trauma to heal, grow and thrive in the classroom.

On June 15, Nationwide Children’s partnered with Head Start in Franklin County to launch a Therapeutic Interagency Preschool (TIP) under the hospital's Early Childhood Mental Health program. The TIP program model is designed to provide educational, developmental and mental health support services to preschoolers who have experienced severe abuse or neglect.

Children dealing with traumatic experiences often display extreme behaviors that can result in expulsion from other early learning programs. TIP provides trauma-informed treatments in a preschool setting, helping the children prepare to begin kindergarten.

“It’s a multidisciplinary model that integrates evidence-based trauma treatment, speech and occupational therapy and behavioral health in an early learning setting,” says Kristopher West, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the clinical manager for Early Childhood Mental Health at Nationwide Children’s.

Through TIP, children in the program can practice group social and emotional skills in an early learning setting. Both the children and their families receive intensive wraparound services as well.

Children are referred by the hospital’s Behavioral Health intake department and are admitted whenever one of the program’s 24 spaces are open. On average, children spend around nine months in a TIP program until they are ready to begin kindergarten. Research suggests that a child who tests as ready for kindergarten has better overall health and wellness outcomes, which is why kindergarten readiness is one of the eight Pediatric Vital Signs that Nationwide Children’s has identified to measure the wellbeing of all children in Franklin County.

The TIP program model was originally developed by Jane Sites, EdD, in Cincinnati more than 30 years ago and is used by hospitals and other organizations throughout Ohio. The program at Nationwide Children’s is the first TIP in Franklin County.

“The TIP model’s basic standards are multidisciplinary teams focused on children who have experienced trauma, but each program looks different depending on the organization,” says Maria Stamatakos, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the medical director of Early Childhood Mental Health at Nationwide Children’s. “Our program has its own spin as well.”

According to Dr. West, the TIP model leverages the hospital’s strong evidence-based trauma treatment practice as well as Nationwide Children’s commitment to reaching families who have experienced challenges or are at-risk.

“Nationwide Children’s has a tremendous amount of behavioral health support as well as a passion for evidence-based, high-quality care for all children,” he says. “The TIP program taps into the hospital’s commitment to prevention, early intervention and access to care.”

Data from the original TIP program in Cincinnati show that children who participated in TIP for one year made the most developmental and behavioral progress of any preschoolers in the county’s Head Start program. This outcome is significant; after just one expulsion, a child is at a significantly higher risk for future school expulsions and involvement in the juvenile justice system. The TIP program can help a child avoid developing more significant behavioral health disorders and instead become more successful, productive adults.

In instances where a child does not meet the criteria for TIP, families can still access care through the hospital’s Early Childhood Mental Health program. Nationwide Children’s offers a continuum of services for families, from prevention through intensive trauma treatment

As the program progresses, the TIP team at Nationwide Children’s expects to share the outcomes with the Franklin County community as well as public health partners in statewide government agencies.

“We have an opportunity to leverage those partnerships and help them see the value of this work so more families can benefit,” says Dr. West.