Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Psychology, PhD


School of Social Science, Politics, and Evaluation

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Tiffany Berry

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jessica Borelli

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Kendall Cotton Bronk

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jessica Dym Bartlett

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2020 Lisa Teachanarong Aragon


Adverse Childhood Experiences, Developmental Psychology, Program Evaluation, School-based Intervention, Social-Emotional Learning, Trauma-Informed Care

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology | Education


Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is the term often used to refer to a set of negative experiences occurring in childhood that hold high potential for inducing toxic stress and complex trauma in children (Felitti et al., 1998). Studies have shown that ACEs are common, often co-occur, and exhibit a strong dose-response relationship to many developmental outcomes across the lifespan (e.g., Anda et al., 2006; Blodgett, 2014; Dong et al., 2004; Metzler et al., 2017). As public awareness of ACEs, their prevalence, and their impact has spread, public interest in implementing effective prevention and intervention strategies has also increased (Donisch et al., 2016; Ko et al., 2008). While many effective treatments for stress and trauma have been developed for use in clinical settings, far fewer innovations have been developed and tested in non-clinical settings such as schools, though the latter is critically important for advancing our understanding of how to best support children across their many contexts (Stratford et al., 2020). To advance both research and practice on this topic, three empirical needs were identified: (1) the need for an ACEs-related risk measure, appropriate for use in non-clinical research settings and universal child-serving systems such as schools, (2) the need for effectiveness studies that rigorously test the impact of school-based trauma-focused interventions on children’s outcomes, and (3) the need for intervention effectiveness studies that utilize developmental theory as a guiding framework for research. The current study addressed these three needs by: (a) developing a proxy measure of ACEs-related risk that attempted to approximate the psychosocial risk associated with ACEs without directly asking children about ACEs exposure, (b) utilizing an experimental design to examine the impact of a comprehensive, school-based, trauma-focused intervention on children’s outcomes of self-regulation, executive functioning, and well-being, and (c) examining research questions inspired by Bronfenbrenner’s (2006) bioecological theory that moved beyond questions of intervention impact (i.e., is the intervention effective?) to also explore under-investigated research questions related to context, person, and process (i.e., under what conditions is the intervention effective, for whom is it most effective, and why?). Broadly, results from this investigation demonstrated the following: First, using latent profile analysis (LPA), the proxy measure of ACEs-related psychosocial risk was able to detect categorically different groups of low-, moderate- and high-risk children that mirrored prevalence estimates from current ACEs literature; additionally, membership in these groups was predictive of significant differences across several developmental outcomes and intervention experiences. Such findings might inspire researchers to further pursue the development and validation of an ACEs-related risk proxy measure that could be used in non-clinical settings and research. Second, contrary to several study hypotheses, the school-based intervention under study was not effective in promoting children’s self-regulation, executive functioning, or well-being over time, even when disaggregating results by developmentally relevant variables of context (i.e., whether children’s parent and teacher participated in the intervention with them) and person (i.e., whether children were in the low-risk, moderate-risk, or high-risk group). Given null findings related to program impact, key study variables were repurposed in an effort to explore broader developmental mechanisms and trends, disconnected from intervention participation. These additional analyses, in line with developmental theory, revealed a significant mediation model (in which lower scores on self-regulation and executive functioning partially explained the negative relationship between children’s score on the proxy measure of ACEs-related risk and well-being) and a significant moderation model (in which perceptions of a caring adult at school had a promotive effect for low-risk children, but no protective buffering effect for high-risk children). Altogether, by using developmental theory to study intervention effectiveness in schools, this study offers an innovative approach to assessing ACEs-related risk in non-clinical, universal child-serving settings; provides a blueprint for how to incorporate developmental theory into studies of intervention effectiveness; and increases our understanding of how ACEs-related risk impacts children’s well-being. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.