Research In Action

Research In Action

refining a web-based tool
Refining a Web-Based Tool to Help Children Recover from Trauma
June 23, 2015

With millions of children each year exposed to potentially traumatic events, there is a great need for accessible early preventive interventions that could promote recovery and decrease the chances of developing persistent posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS). But there is only a small number of published evaluation studies of such early interventions for children, and few have found clear evidence of preventing or reducing PTSS. We are working to close that gap with the development of a web-based intervention called Coping Coach. Research recently published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology showed encouraging results regarding Coping Coach’s effect on preventing PTSS in children.

Based on research evidence on how PTSS develops in children, Coping Coach uses engaging, game-like activities to help children experiencing acute traumatic events learn techniques to better recover emotionally. Like CIRP@CHOP’s website, which provides support and information for parents, Coping Coach was developed based on foundational research that delineated risk and protective mechanisms in children’s development of PTSS. After pilot data showed that the intervention was easy to use, engaging, and educational for children, we moved forward with a pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) to examine feasibility and begin to evaluate intervention efficacy. The waitlist-control RCT included 72 children ages 8 to 12 who had been admitted to the hospital for an acute medical event.

After inviting one group to use the Coping Coach intervention within six weeks of hospital admittance and a second group to wait until 12 weeks to engage in the intervention, the research team found that both groups benefited from using the Coping Coach game. The study also confirms feasibility: About 60% of the children who participated in the study finished the intervention game at least once, and they spent an average of 52 minutes completing intervention activities.

Future Research

With this new data showing the feasibility of delivering Coping Coach at different times after medical trauma and its potential in preventing PTSS in children, we plan to test the intervention in a larger RCT that will provide a more rigorous analysis of effectiveness. Based on the results of this pilot RCT, we are already developing new features for Coping Coach to optimize engagement and to encourage repeat use. Further research will continue to explore the optimal timing for preventive interventions and whether this timing can be flexible.

If additional studies continue to show Coping Coach’s effectiveness in preventing PTSS in children, our goal is to make it widely available to families. Interventions such as Coping Coach can be part of a broad public health response to the huge number of children exposed to acute, potentially traumatic events. We look forward to further developing and refining Coping Coach to help address this enormous need.