Programs that Work
Healthy and Safe Children
Children not experiencing physical, psychological or emotional abuse
Age of Child
Early Childhood (0-8)
Middle Childhood (9-12)
Type of Setting
Type of Service
Type of Outcome Addressed
Child Abuse and Neglect
Evidence Level (What does this mean?)
Project TRUST, which stands for Teaching Reaching Using Students and Theater, uses a series of plays to raise the issues of sexual abuse and violence prevention with students from elementary school through high school. The play Touch is specifically designed to introduce the concepts of sexual abuse and its prevention to elementary-school-age children.
Trained high school students present the play, which generally lasts about 30 minutes. The play introduces the concepts of the touch continuum (nurturing, confusing, exploitive), the way to say no in uncomfortable situations, and the idea that perpetrators can be strangers or people the children know. An optional pre-play discussion led by the teachers covers terms used in the play, such as the names of various body parts, types of sexual abuse, and adults to whom students can turn for help. There is also a 15-minute question-and-answer session after the play, which is conducted by the facilitator and actors.
The play Touch is designed for elementary-grade children. The evaluation study consisted of 1,269 children drawn from four elementary schools in a Midwestern city during the 1994–1995 school year. The majority (86 percent) were Caucasian and 22 percent met the federal criteria for free or reduced-fee school lunches.
The study (Oldfield et al., 1996) evaluated students after exposure to the program. Classrooms from the four schools were randomly assigned to either a control group (611 students) who didn’t see the play or a treatment group (658 students) who saw the play. Students in the control group saw the play after all the evaluation data were collected.
Several instruments were used to assess the impact of viewing the play. The first was the Children’s Knowledge of Abuse Questionnaire—Revised (CKAQ), which is a series of 33 true-false items. These items included questions regarding assertiveness, strangers, sexual abuse, secrets that should not be kept, and the possibility that familiar people may touch children in an uncomfortable way. This questionnaire can be administered to the youngest children by reading the items to them. Two other questionnaires assessed the children’s overall level of anxiety, one for children in grades 1–3 and one for those in grades 4–6. The children’s responses were assessed within two days of seeing the play. Retention of the play’s concepts was tested three months later by re-administering the CKAQ to a randomly selected subgroup (111) of the treatment students. The study assessed the effect of groups (treatment and control), their grade in school, and gender effects on knowledge acquired about maltreatment.
Key Evaluation Findings
According to the study by Oldfield et al. (1996):
- Students in the treatment group showed small but significant gains in the knowledge of abuse assessment. Their average score was 26.7 (out of 33) compared with 24.1 for the control group. Average knowledge scores increased with grade level, with treatment scores consistently higher than control scores.
- Earlier research indicated that some abuse prevention programs created fear and anxiety in students. This evaluation found no differences in anxiety between the control and treatment groups.
- The students in the treatment program showed retention of knowledge three months later. The average score for a subgroup of 111 students was 2.2 points higher than the first assessment.
- There were four reports of abuse in the treatment group (two previously confirmed and two first-time reports) and one in the control group (a first-time report), all of which were verified by Children Protective Services.
Public, private or parochial elementary schools, social service or public health educators, school theater departments, and youth organizations.
The evaluation was supported in part by a Prevention Block Grant through the Nebraska Department of Health. Lincoln Public Schools contribute to the funding of Project TRUST-Lincoln, Nebraska. Other programs are funded through local school systems.
- Using high school students to present the play allows the elementary school students to identify with actors who serve as role models.
- The play intervention is time efficient, requiring about an hour of instructional time for the elementary school students.
There is a script for the play Touch. There is also a discussion guide to help with the question-response period.
Facilitators are needed to implement the program. Their responsibilities include recruiting and sometimes training the high school student volunteers as well as coordinating the delivery of the play with the schools.
Issues to Consider
This program received a "promising" rating. There is only one evaluation, and it only assessed the elementary-school version of the program, the play Touch. While the independent evaluation of the play Touch found some positive results, the impact only indirectly affects the benchmark. The evaluation demonstrated that the program increased children’s knowledge about abuse, and clearly the intent is that informed children will be able to prevent instances of abuse. The evaluation did not show, however, that the gain in knowledge led to changes in behavior.
Another issue is that the scores on the CKAQ indicate that children continue to have difficulty with concepts such as strangers and that abusers can be people they know and trust. The evaluation study recommended exploring ways to improve children’s understanding of these concepts, such as modifying the play, increasing audience participation, and perhaps adding a home component to reinforce the concepts.
Although the evaluation did not directly demonstrate a reduction in abuse, the program does show evidence of being an effective way to communicate prevention concepts to elementary school children. The treatment group reported more incidents of first-time maltreatment after receiving the program, all of which were verified by Child Protective Services. Thus, there was no evidence that the intervention encourages misreporting of abuse. Finally, the program did not cause anxiety in the children, which may be a concern with raising children’s knowledge about this topic.
There are 40 licensed Project TRUST sites operating in the United States. The sites are located in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, New York, California, Minnesota, and Illinois.
Karen Gundlach, Education Director & Coordinator
528 Hennepin Avenue, Suite 704
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Phone: (612) 339-4944, ext. 229
Fax: (612) 337-8042
Susan Letheby, Project TRUST Director, Lincoln, Nebraska
Phone: (402) 476-2424
Illusion Theater provides scripts of their other plays as well as a videotape of the play Touch. They also provide information packets on how to become a Project TRUST site.
Oldfield, D., B. J. Hays, and M. E. Megel, "Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Project Trust: An Elementary School-Based Victimization Prevention Strategy,"
Child Abuse & Neglect,
Vol. 20, No. 9, pp. 821-832, 1996.