Results of Childhood Trauma Initiative Show Significant Increase in Trauma-Informed Care

June 27, 2018

Promoting Resiliency in Children Exposed to Trauma External Evaluation, 2012 – 2017

Launched in 2012, the Promoting Resiliency in Children Exposed to Trauma (Promoting Resiliency) initiative was designed to deepen and expand trauma-informed practices in a broad array of child serving agencies.  

From 2012-2016, Bright Promises Foundation made multi-year grants to eight organizations who in turn partnered with more than 45 agencies that wanted to improve their ability to help children who have experienced trauma. Many of these agencies are located on the South and West sides of Chicago where more than 95% of the families they serve live below the poverty line and many of the children at their agency have experience 3+ adverse childhood experiences such as violence, abuse, or neglect. Bright Promises provided funding and support to help each grantee to extend their work to reach providers who had not previously been exposed to a trauma-informed theory and practice, to deepen in-house expertise and knowledge, to refine and expand training tools, and, ultimately, to serve children that have experienced trauma better.

Bright Promises also supported Voices for Illinois Children and the Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition to create Look Through Their Eyes, a resource website for parents and caregivers that includes a series of public service announcement videos about childhood trauma.


Evaluation is a critical part of Bright Promises’ process. Because we are often among the first funders focused on a particular issue, evaluation helps us to identify what “success” means. Through evaluation, we are able to identify common metrics for collecting data from our diverse partners. This gives us a better understanding of what strategies are most effective in different communities, and how we can support the replication and expansion of effective strategies throughout Chicagoland and beyond.

For each of our initiatives, Bright Promises works closely with experts in the field to develop a Theory of Change. A Theory of Change reads like an “If…Then…” statement, with the “if” part referring to the work of Bright Promises, and the “then” part referring to the hoped-for impact on key constituents including child-serving organizations, parents and caregivers, and especially children. 

According to the Promoting Resilience Theory of Change, when Bright Promises Foundation provides funding and hands-on support to organizations with proven capacity to create or build on existing programming to address childhood trauma, and convenes organizations in learning communities for the purpose of sharing key lessons, best practices, and program outcomes, there are both immediate and long term outcomes that benefit child-serving organizations, families, and communities

Examples of immediate outcomes include sustained training models that equip adults to recognize trauma, strong partnerships among organizations working to address childhood trauma, and greater awareness of trauma, and the ability of organizations to implement protective factors for children who have experienced trauma that will help them heal. Examples of longer term outcomes include the creation of a community of organizations who are experts in addressing childhood trauma, improved programming and policies that support a safe, nurturing, understanding environment for children and families at organizations in neighborhoods across the city, and the creation of safe environments in which children and youth can fully participate and contribute.

Key indicators that Bright Promises Foundation evaluated included the number of specific populations/sub-groups organizations worked with (e.g parents, families affected by substance abuse, etc.), the number of new partnerships created through the initiative, not only with trainees but peer organizations, and the structures put in place to support consistent trauma-informed responses to children and families across roles within an agency.


Below is a list of key findings from the expert evaluation of Bright Promises Promoting Resilience initiative:

  1. The Promoting Resiliency grant initiative allowed trauma experts to extend their reach to new audiences. The professionals trained included child welfare advocates, early intervention specialists, afterschool enrichment providers, pediatric emergency room personnel, daycare providers.

  2. As a result, key child serving professionals became trauma informed and developed new skills to better support the children they serve. Ninety-six percent of grantees’ partner organizations surveyed were confident in their ability to recognize trauma in children as a result of the training; over three quarters felt better equipped to respond to trauma. 

  3. At least half of partner organizations cited creation of new policies and processes as an outcome. 

  4. Grantees expanded their own expertise and created new tools, deepening their own capacity to serve the field. Grantee organization staff participated in numerous trainings and professional development opportunities to increase their own knowledge base.

  5. An unexpected outcome of the project was the identification of high levels vicarious trauma experienced by staff at the partner organizations. Several grantees helped partner organization staff institute on-going self-care strategies.

  6. Moving organizations from understanding of need, through training, and into culture change is an intensive process and grantees are clear that each step is pivotal.  Grantees cited ongoing coaching and support as a distinguishing characteristic of their funded programs. This was seen as key to the development of an enduring trauma-informed culture.

  7. Promoting Resiliency helped grantees test new approaches, and in some instances, leverage new or expanded interest in their work. They are positioned to carry on this work. Promoting Resiliency helped propel the work of most of its grantee organizations and led to the leveraging of new resources and partnerships.

Children at one of Bright Promises' grantee agencies enjoying their safe and supportive classroom.

Through ongoing training to expand their own expertise, and through the expansion of programs to new and critical child serving providers, Promoting Resiliency helped propel the work of most of its grantee organizations. Examples of the impact of the grant program include, but are not limited to, new curriculum, greater internal staff expertise, and greater reach into child serving communities.

Through the Promoting Resiliency initiative, Bright Promises Foundation has mobilized awareness and action on a relevant and critical issue. Today, the idea that a wide range of youth-serving professionals need to ingrate trauma-informed practices into their programs has proliferated, with backing from research and with federal funding to support such efforts. But, at the time that Promoting Resiliency was conceived, this was not the case. Promoting Resiliency funded a group of innovative thinkers and helped build the next piece in the field.

The initiative resulted in a large number of professionals from a diverse set of child-serving agencies trained in trauma-informed practices. At least half of the trained organizations formerly instituted policies and practices to ensure trauma-informed practices endure in their ongoing work and become part of the organizational culture. Through the process, grantees made improvements in how they provide training, and in some instances, identified internal training needs at their organizations. 

For the field, there are promising training models for five subsectors of the child and youth serving sectors: emergency room and pediatric medical and non-medical staff; daycare providers; development specialists who work with babies and toddlers; legal professionals and advocates working in child welfare; and providers of after-school or out-of-school programs and services. These models all point to the importance on ongoing coaching and technical assistance to ensure training translates into new practices and the importance of addressing the vicarious trauma experienced by adults who work with children and youth who have been experienced trauma.   


Children are not the only one's who are benefiting from this initiative. Professionals received much needed training and support to address compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma.

"Just recognizing that their behavior is a result of trauma helps me to be more empathic to both children and their care givers. It’s not “what is wrong with you?”, it’s “what happened to you?”"

"As a program director of a preschool, I oversee multiple preschool classrooms, ages 6 weeks to 12 years. We see severely passive to severely aggressive behavior. The training helped me and my staff be constantly cognizant of potential reasons for the behaviors observed."

"Our focus was on working to create policies and procedures. It is not a program you do at your agency and you are done. It’s a way of working. It’s embedding it in job descriptions and performance reviews. You have to embed trauma-informed practices into the organizational culture."

"We are continuing to refine our approaches and improve our practice; further, going forward, because of Bright Promises multi-year support, we are better positioned to be a resource for Chicago organizations serving youth who have been exposed to complex trauma."

Photos courtesy of ARK of St. Sabina and the Carol Robertson Learning Center.