Second Step

Second Step® programs help students build social-emotional skills—like nurturing positive relationships, managing emotions, and setting goals—so they can thrive in school and in life. The programs empower preschoolers, teens, and all ages in between to build skills for success. Programs include:
  • Early Learning (PreK)
  • Elementary (K-5)
  • Middle School (6-8)
  • High School (9-12)
  • Out-of-School Time (K-5)
  • SEL for Adults (K-12)
  • Bullying Prevention Unit (K-5)
  • Child Protection Unit (PreK-5)

This program is approved for WV Expanded School Mental Health.

Last reviewed: 2023

Intended Outcomes:

Goals for Second Step SEL programs:

  • Improve executive functioning skills
  • Increase skills for learning
  • Increase empathy and friendship skills
  • Improve emotion management, self-regulation, and social-emotional skills
  • Increase on-task behavior
  • Increase school-readiness

Goals for Bullying Prevention Unit:

  • Improve student's ability to recognize, report, and refuse bullying

Goals for Child Protection Unit:

  • Increase knowledge of personal safety rules
  • Increase ability to recognize unsafe and sexually abusive situations and touches
  • Increase ability to report unsafe and sexually abusive situations and touches
  • Increase ability to refuse unsafe and sexually abusive situations and touches

Continuum of Care:
Universal Prevention

Topic Areas:
Anxiety, Behavioral Health/Mental Health, Disruptive Behaviors, Physical Health, Trauma

Childhood (4-12), Teen/Adolescent (13-18)

Geographic Locations:
Rural, Urban

Delivery Settings:
Community-Based, School-Based, Virtual

Cultural Considerations:
A balanced amount of the research involved diverse populations

The programs are for school staff, parents, and students grades PreK-12.

Programs are implemented by school administrators and teachers.


Is Training Required?
Yes, see developer info

Who can provide the required training?
Information for training can be found here:

Program Costs (materials, training, etc.):
Yes, refer to program website

Program/Practice Website:

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research:

Cooke, M. B., Ford, J., Levine, J., Bourke, C., Newell, L., & Lapidus, G. (2007). The effects of city-wide implementation of “Second Step” on elementary school students’ prosocial and aggressive behaviors. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 28(2), 93–115.

Espelage, D. L., Low, S., Van Ryzin, M. J., & Polanin, J. R. (2015). Clinical trial of Second Step Middle School Program: Impact on bullying, cyberbullying, homophobic teasing, and sexual harassment perpetration. School Psychology Review, 44(4), 464–479.

Low, S., Cook, C. R., Smolkowski, K., & Buntain-Ricklefs, J. (2015). Promoting social–emotional competence: An evaluation of the elementary version of Second Step®. Journal of School Psychology, 53(6), 463–477.

Low, S., Smolkowski, K., Cook, C., & Desfosses, D. (2019). Two-year impact of a universal social-emotional learning curriculum: Group differences from developmentally sensitive trends over time. Developmental Psychology, 55(2), 415–433. (Supplemental)

Moy, G. E., & Hazen, A. (2018). A systematic review of the second step program. Journal of School Psychology, 71, 18–41.

Moy, G., Polanin, J. R., McPherson, C., & Phan, T.-V. (2018). International adoption of the Second Step program: Moderating variables in treatment effects. School Psychology International, 39(4), 333–359.

Nickerson, A. B., Tulledge, J., Manges, M., Kesselring, S., Parks, T., Livingston, J. A., & Dudley, M. (2019). Randomized controlled trial of the Child Protection Unit: Grade and gender as moderators of CSA prevention concepts in elementary students. Child Abuse & Neglect, 96.

Sullivan, T. N., Sutherland, K. S., Farrell, A. D., & Taylor, K. A. (2015). An evaluation of Second Step: What are the benefits for youth with and without disabilities? Remedial and Special Education, 36(5), 286–298.

Taub, J. (2002). Evaluation of the Second Step Violence Prevention Program at a rural elementary school. School Psychology Review, 31(2), 186–200.

Upshur, C. C., Wenz-Gross, M., Rhoads, C., Heyman, M., Yoo, Y., & Sawosik, G. (2019). A randomized efficacy trial of the Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) curriculum. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 62, 145–159.

Additional Sources:

Supported By Research

WV Rating:
Supported by Research
»WV Ratings Info

Rationale for Rating:

This review was in-between well-supported and supported categories. Although we were able to review 2 meta-analyses, results from these meta-analyses showed significant and moderate effects for knowledge gained, but no effects and/or minimal effects for improvement in prosocial behaviors or reductions in antisocial behaviors. Second Step has been well-researched and we reviewed several RCT's demonstrating effectiveness across categories (prosocial and antisocial behaviors, knowledge, executive functioning, etc.), albeit some of these results were small and some studies found no significant results in the targeted outcomes. The Child Protection Unit had the most convincing results, with one good RCT demonstrating positive effects.

Contraindications or Concerns:
None identified

Other Registries/Ratings

The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare:
Supported by Research Evidence

Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development:
Not On Registry

Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness:
Unclear +

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Model Programs Guide:
No Effects - One study

Washington State Institute for Public Policy:
Found on the registry. See link for more information.

Washington State Institute for Public Policy Registry Link: