8 Tips for Developing Preventive Interventions for Children Exposed to Acute Medical Events

This is a guest post by Dr. Meghan Marsac. Meghan is a behavioral researcher and the Director of Training at the Center for Injury Research & Prevention at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Meghan has recently led the development of Coping Coach, a web-based video game for children experiencing acute traumatic stress, and The Cellie Coping Kit, a toolkit for children with chronic diseases and their families.    

As a field, we have made significant progress in developing models and identifying key risk factors associated with the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children who experience  acute medical traumatic events (see these key publications). Additionally, we have given much attention to the evaluation of preventive interventions. For example, our team has recently evaluated After The Injury, a web-based intervention for parents of injured children.

However, a standard process for the development of preventive interventions is less clear, and therefore this post provides you with some starting points. Below is a list of tips to consider and questions to ask when beginning to develop a new preventive intervention:

1. Identify the problem and purpose of the intervention

  • What is the problem that needs addressed? 
  • What specific behaviors are the focus of the intervention?

2. Link intervention goals to past research and theory

  • What are the current techniques or theories in the field that can be integrated into or adapted for the intervention?

3. Select the target population and determine the level of the intervention

  • Who will complete the intervention?
  • What cultural factors should be considered?
  • Is this a universal intervention for any child who has experienced a medical trauma or is the intervention for children at-risk for difficulties?

4. Identify potential barriers of intervention implementation

  • What would get in the way of someone in the target audience being able to complete this intervention?

5. Before fully developing the intervention, consider evaluation

  • How will the intervention objectives and goals be measured?
  • What will determine whether or not the intervention is efficacious?
  • How can a need for potential changes or revisions be identified?

6. Draft intervention content to match intervention goals

  • What intervention activity or component teaches the knowledge or skills needed to solve the identified problem and meet the intervention goals?
  • Are there effective techniques currently that can be translated and integrated into the new intervention?

7. Build an intervention prototype and complete engagement and usability testing

  • Would the target audience be interested in this type of an intervention?
  • What would encourage potential audience members to use this intervention?
  • What would prevent them from engaging in this intervention program?
  • If applicable, what should the intervention look and feel like?
  • Are members of the target population able to complete intervention tasks without additional assistance?

8. Evaluate intervention and revise if indicated

  • Was the intervention implemented as intended?
  • Were the intervention goals achieved?
  • If not, what needs changed or strengthened to be able to achieve initial goals? Or do initial goals need revised?

Meghan’s team currently has training opportunities for students!



Kazak AE, Kassam-Adams N, Schneider S, Zelikovsky N, Alderfer MA, & Rourke M (2006). An integrative model of pediatric medical traumatic stress. Journal of pediatric psychology, 31 (4), 343-55 PMID: 16093522

Marsac ML, Kassam-Adams N, Hildenbrand AK, Kohser KL, & Winston FK (2011). After the injury: initial evaluation of a web-based intervention for parents of injured children. Health education research, 26 (1), 1-12 PMID: 20858769

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