Buffering Toxic Stress

Children are at risk of developing toxic stress response when chronic stressors are paired with an absence of supportive and responsive caregiving. Responses to toxic stress can involve apparently permanent changes in gene expression, brain functioning and may put children at risk for and behavioral challenges. This efficacy study examines whether the Incredible Years Toddler (IYT) program can prevent the development of toxic stress response by supporting parent’s ability to provide poor children with supportive and responsive caregiving and improved emotional regulation skills. Over five years, five waves of 33 children in Youth In Need’s Early Head Start program will receive biweekly socialization visits and weekly home visits for 6 months from one of Youth In Need’s parent educators. In each wave, 22 of the children will also receive six months of the IYT program after the child is 12-months old. After a one-year follow up period, the study will compare outcomes between the groups that received IYT and those that did not. Some of the outcomes that will be compared include cortisol levels, development outcomes, behavioral outcomes, parental stress levels, maltreatment occurrences, and epigenetic differences.

John Constantino
F. Brett Drake

Youth in Need Early Head Start
Washington University in St. Louis, School of Medicine, Division of Child Psychiatry
Washington University in St. Louis, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Center of Violence and Injury Prevention

U.S. Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation