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Current Projects

A primary focus of CAFRU is research and evaluation of programs that counter the impact of complex trauma on individuals, families, systems, and communities. CAFRU faculty and staff conduct research to:

  • Foster long-term success in early learning and K–12 education,
  • Evaluate mental and behavioral programs, and
  • Build understanding of the lasting effects of traumatic childhood experiences.

Current Research Briefs

“Diverted Lives”: The impact of adversity and poverty on transitions to post-secondary education (2019)

In cooperation with the Washington State Office of Financial Management’s Education Research and Data Center, Washington State University’s Child and Family Research Unit has completed an analysis of community, school, and individual student characteristics that predict differences in high school graduates transition to post-secondary education. A webinar presented by Dr. Christopher Blodgett reviews key findings that describe the experiences of 2016 high school graduates in Washington. Consistent with previous reports, school poverty is a significant predictor of post-secondary transitions, but the level of adversity reported by students and resulting adjustment challenges provide comparable impact.

Building and Sustaining Trauma-Informed Approaches in Schools (2019)

Compiled in coordination with Public Health Seattle and King County, this brief report provides key lessons for successfully managing trauma-informed school practices. These lessons are based on over 10 years of implementation experience in the trauma-informed school intervention CLEAR (Collaborative Learning for Educational Achievement and Resilience), which has been implemented in more than 60 school sites across five western states, including in Seattle Public Schools.

‘Trauma-informed practice’ is an umbrella term for efforts to respond to both immediate crisis and chronic loss in the lives of children. While trauma from specific tragedies is all too common, the driving force for trauma-informed practice in education is our knowledge of how problems in families and communities, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), often pile up early in children’s lives with resulting developmental risk. Schools are natural systems for building resilience through content mastery, social connections, and the opportunities to be creative and contribute to community. Emphasizing resilience building as the principal aim of trauma-informed school practice helps assure that work does not end with students when behavior no longer challenges us. As a result, a significant part of trauma-informed practices in schools does not require formal treatment, but rather targeted skills building and the use of routines and relationships in the school community to create new learning experiences that support new skills and persistence in the face of frustration.

Association between ACEs and School Success in Elementary Children (2018)

Accepted for publication  in the APA journal School Psychology Quarterly, this article authored by Christopher Blodgett and Jane Lanigan explores the feasibility of using school personnel as reporters to examine the relationship between the level of ACE exposure and academic risk among a non-clinical and random sample of 2,101 public elementary school children. ACE prevalence was reported for 44% of students, with 13% of students having three or more ACEs. A dose-response effect was found between the number of ACEs and the risks of poor school attendance, behavioral issues, and failure to meet grade level standards in mathematics, reading, or writing. Results suggest that utilizing staff reports of known ACEs exposure in students is useful for describing the prevalence of ACEs in the school population, and that understanding and responding to ACE profiles might be an important strategy for improving the academic trajectories for at-risk children.

Every Child School Ready- Community, School, and Student Predictors of Kindergarten Readiness and Academic Progress (2018)

In cooperation with the Washington State Office of Financial Management’s Education Research and Data Center (ERDC), WSU CAFRU conducted an analysis of community, school, and individual student characteristics that influence both school readiness in children entering kindergarten as well as post-secondary educational success. This 2018 report analyzes community risk and protective characteristics to understand differences in school readiness across Washington State communities. Using four years of data from the WaKIDS school readiness system developed in Washington, it includes initial results and subsequent academic progress for a group of more than 150,000 students. The report findings demonstrate that school readiness is highly predictive of later academic success, which is in turn predictive of health, well-being, and economic success. Several community characteristics within poor communities can also buffer against the collective impacts of poverty. These findings confirm that understanding the scope of ACEs in a community provides an explanation related to poverty, but distinct in origins and impacts. While understanding a person’s individual differences remains an important strategy for understanding risk, the community characteristics of poverty and adversity can provide another mechanism for considering policies and investments appropriate to improving academic readiness and success in our communities.

No School Alone- Community Characteristics, Academic Success, and Youth Well-being (2018)

This report is part of a series of studies addressing the potential effects that community differences have on academic success and youth well-being. In this report, the original No School Alone report is updated with school performance data through the 2016-17 school year. In addition to updating the initial No School Alone report, changes in the data systems maintained by Washington State’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) now permitted an examination of school performance differences for specific populations of Washington students.

The study confirms the previous No School Alone findings that school poverty and levels of community ACEs are predictive of academic success based on standardized test results. In addition, school enrollment across specific student groups (ethnicity enrollment, English Language Learner enrollment, poverty levels, special education enrollment) helped explain differences in standardized academic measures in addition to the primary predictors of school poverty and community ACEs. These findings point to unique opportunities for local development of responses suited to the range of resources and challenges defining communities.

No School Alone- How Community Risks and Assets Contribute to School and Youth Success (2015)

Community factors significantly contribute to the individual, peer, and family factors that set the conditions for school success. The nature of the community which a school serves can directly influence the nature and climate of that specific school. This does not minimize the importance of high-quality educators, effective curriculum and learning materials, strong leaders, and engaged parents for school success. Rather, the evidence indicates that these characteristics of schools as healthy communities are directly affected by the conditions in the surrounding community.

This report demonstrates that there is wide variation across Washington and its communities in creating the necessary conditions and safety critical for the academic success of students. In effect, we describe two Washingtons: one in which schools and their communities help the majority of their children prosper, and one in which loss and trauma severely reduces the promise and growth of their children. A critical finding of this report is that Washington has both low-poverty communities with high levels of ACEs, and high-poverty communities with lower levels of ACEs. The mix of assets and risks in each community calls for tailored actions guided by common policies and investments.

The Prevalence and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence Intrusion in the Workplace

This study done by Christopher Blodgett, WSU CAFRU Director, and Jane D. Lanigan, Academic Director and Associate Professor of the Department of Human Development WSU Vancouver, examines the prevalence and consequences of intimate partner violence (IPV) in the workplace. Surveys were completed by 1,390 employees in 32 different companies representing different organization types. The cumulative effects of IPV as well as active victimization contribute to negative workplace consequences. With significant numbers of employees experiencing IPV and reporting workplace consequences, the present research underscores the need for employers to develop a more precise means of understanding cost and response. The article was published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma.

Collaborative Learning for Educational Achievement and Resilience (CLEAR)

Collaborative Learning for Educational Achievement and Resilience (CLEAR) is a three-year educator support model designed to address childhood trauma as a common challenge in schools. For more information, visit our CLEAR web page at

A Selected Review of Trauma-Informed School Practice (2016)

“Trauma-informed schools” is an umbrella term for several different approaches which share some core proposals for change, but otherwise can vary widely. The concepts of good trauma-response (that compassion has the power to heal, that prioritizing the power of relationships is essential for change, and that assuring safety is a right of childhood) all create hope for better outcomes and point to the kinds of immediate actions that make change a realistic possibility for many. This 2016 paper introduces some key bodies of research that inform the Collaborative Learning for Educational Achievement and Resilience (CLEAR) model, but which are not routinely included in many discussions of trauma-informed practice in schools.

CLEAR 2017-18 End of Year Staff Survey Report

In the 2017-18 school year, CLEAR was implemented in 15 schools in six communities across five states: thirteen elementary schools, one comprehensive high school, and one alternative high school. The results in this report, reflecting a range of experiences and implementing conditions across communities, demonstrate high acceptance of CLEAR among participants, high ratings of CLEAR implementation components, and evidence on several indicators that CLEAR has an overall positive effect in schools, which is accelerated among staff who utilize consultations and practice improvements.

CLEAR 2015-16 End of Year Staff Survey Report

In the 2015-16 school year, CLEAR was implemented in 12 schools, including ten elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. Survey responses from 432 school-based staff indicated high levels of program acceptability, and responses indicated positive shifts in school climate, staff-student engagement, individual staff practices, and perceptions of student behavior. These results demonstrate that CLEAR is associated with meaningful and statistically significant gains in staff-associated school characteristics, school-wide academic performance, and individual improved academic outcomes.

Older Research Briefs and White Papers

ACEs in Head Start Children and Impact on Development, January 2014

This updated report lists findings on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in children enrolled in a large Head Start program located in Spokane, WA. As part of a system-wide shift to trauma-informed practices, ACEs screening of parents was introduced in spring of 2012, and voluntary participation exceeded 80% of the parents asked to answer the ACE questions regarding their child’s lifetime exposure, as well as their own childhood exposure. Findings from this review demonstrate that a child’s exposure to ACEs is not wholly dependent on their parent’s history, but that the risk for children dramatically accelerates if parents experience significant ACES. The challenge for the family and for our communities is that addressing ACEs must be a two-generation strategy, and that early learning systems and policy makers would do well to address ACEs as a critical developmental and school readiness risk in the general population.

ACE Screening and Assessment in Child Serving Systems, July 2012

Drawing information from four research studies addressing adversity and trauma in Washington State, CAFRU researchers share early lessons and findings that address screening and assessment strategies for population-level efforts focused on complex trauma. Evidence in this review underscores the pervasive scope and impact of adversity not just in treatment populations, but also in how traumatic stress responses directly affects services and systems that define productive communities.

APPI Review of Community Efforts to Mitigate and Prevent ACEs and Trauma (2012)

This 2012 paper summarizes community and treatment system initiatives in Washington State that address elements of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) prevention and mitigation across a range of social, behavioral, and emotional consequences. Included in the review is a synopsis of the twenty-year history of Community Public Health and Safety Networks. The community networks represent a foundational body of work due to the continuing integration into the ACEs Public-Private Initiative (APPI) development effort and the systematic efforts of the community networks to use the concept of ACEs as a core concept in community mobilization.

Research Brief- ACEs and Developmental Risk in Schoolchildren (2010)

In 2010, WSU researchers posed two questions about adverse childhood experiences and the developmental risk they pose to elementary schoolchildren: How common are significant adverse events in elementary schoolchildren? And do adverse events correlate with academic problems and health conditions in children? Their results support the relevance of ACEs as a focus for school-based risk reduction efforts, and the authors suggest that attending to ACE exposure in children may be the most powerful predictor of risk, compared to other common school risk predictors.

This short research brief, prepared by Christopher Blodgett, Roy Harrington, Janet Lohan, Robert Short, Natalie Turner, and Jeffery Winikoff, utilized a ‘sentinel’ reporting method to investigate occurrences and effects of adverse childhood experiences across ten public elementary schools in Spokane, WA. This study was funded by the Spokane County Community Network, with funds awarded by the Washington State Family Policy Council.


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