Handle With Care Massachusetts

Childhood Trauma Initiative

Child Witness to Violence

Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz is strongly committed to working with community partners and law enforcement agencies to assist children victims and witnesses of crime.

Since 2007, The Childhood Trauma Initiative has been focused on working with law enforcement, educators, youth serving agencies, hospitals, and other community partners to help children build the necessary resiliency skills for a healthy development.

The goals of the Childhood Trauma Initiative are to:

  • Educate law enforcement, criminal justice departments, educators, youth serving agencies, and other community partners on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how exposure to ACEs impairs the neurological, social, behavioral, and emotional development of youth
  • Facilitate collaboration and communication between partners
  • Train law enforcement on trauma-sensitive police approaches to working with children who are victims/witnesses to crime
  • Train partners on creating trauma-sensitive schools and after-school programs
  • Train partners on targeted intervention programs for youth at-risk for future antisocial behavior (addiction, violence, bullying, etc)

Youth Opioid Prevention Grant – 2017

About the Grant-Funded Helping Traumatized and Drug-Endangered Children Learn Trainings:

Some of the most difficult learning and behavior problems that students present at school can be linked to their exposure to adverse childhood experiences (trauma). Studies demonstrate that more children than we ever imagined are coming to school having been exposed to a host of overwhelming experiences from violence in the home or in the community, to abuse, neglect, or parental addiction to substances, to homelessness, war or natural disaster.

Research now shows that trauma from exposure to these adverse childhood experiences can have a neurobiological impact on children that undermines their ability to learn, form relationships, and self regulate their behavior in the classroom and in the community.

These school training presentations will share the work of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), a collaboration of Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School.

Based on TLPI’s publications, Helping Traumatized Children Learn and Creating and Advocating for Trauma Sensitive Schools, the presentation will cover the prevalence of trauma, its neurobiological impacts on student learning, behavior and relationships at school, and the need for safe and supportive, trauma sensitive schools that help all students feel safe to learn.

The presentation will also describe the Attributes and Framework that can guide schools in creating the school wide infrastructure needed to provide a safe and supportive, trauma sensitive learning environment for all students.
Along with District Attorney Cruz, the presenter will be Joel Ristuccia, Director of Training for TLPI, a certified School Psychologist with more than 30 years of experience working in the public schools, and co-author of both volumes of Helping Traumatized Children Learn.

Further details about this learning opportunity:

Schools have found it most effective as they build awareness among staff about the impact of trauma on learning to have not only all educators and administrators participate in the training, but also all adults in the building, including paraprofessionals, school resource officers, office staff, custodians, lunch personnel and bus drivers, etc., whenever possible.

For those schools that are selected, the 3-hour presentation will be provided at no cost.

The school-wide presentation will be scheduled at a mutually convenient time before April 2019. Applicants will be responsible for arranging for an appropriate meeting space with standard audio visual equipment.

There will be a brief survey, consisting of only 3 questions that all attendees will complete immediately after the presentation. These responses will be shared with all participants and could help inform the school’s next steps.

Given that trauma-sensitive schools require the support of and alignment with community efforts, there will also be a learning opportunity offered to your local police department by the Plymouth County Drug Abuse Task Force to develop an understanding of the impact of trauma on children, as part of this effort.


  • Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District
  • Brockton Public Schools
  • East Bridgewater Public Schools
  • Pembroke Public Schools
  • Plymouth Public Schools
  • Silver-Lake Regional School District
  • Wareham Public Schools
  • Whitman-Hanson Regional School District

Report Abuse

   In Plymouth County alone, over 500 children each year allege abuse. Each case must be investigated to ensure the child is safe from further harm. Child abuse    can impact a child’s physical and mental well-being.

   Emotionally, children can experience withdrawal, post-traumatic stress disorder, and feelings of shame, distrust, and guilt.

   If you suspect any case involving child sexual or physical abuse, neglect, or sexual exploitation, report it immediately.

The History of the Childhood Trauma Initiative- Children Witness to Violence

The District Attorney’s Office and the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI) first implemented the Helping Traumatized Children Learn Model in Plymouth County as a pilot program in the Brockton Public Schools in 2007.

The goal was two-fold:

  1. treat the victims and witnesses of such violence, but also by treating their exposure to adverse childhood experiences
  2. prevent the next generation of abusers.

Data from 2011-2014 showed an 80% decrease in suspendable issues and a 43% decrease in overall office referrals at the three pilot schools.

TLPI and the DA’s Office believe that similar decreases will be seen
in substance abuse and other anti-social behavior, because the Helping Traumatized Children Learn Model addresses all health detriments, and keys in on helping students develop proper self-regulation techniques.

TLPI has distributed over 95,000 copies of the Helping Traumatized Children Learn book since its publication in 2005. The success of the initiative led to a second volume, Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools in 2013.

To learn more about the District Attorney’s work with the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, please view Behind Broken Doors, Schools work to aid children of domestic violence

Now in the midst of an opioid crisis, District Attorney Cruz is applying the same principles to work with drug endangered children.

DA Cruz presented this model at the CADCA 27th National Leadership Forum in February 2017 and the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children Conference in October 2016. DA Cruz has also trained the West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice who took this model to the next level with their Handle with Care Program.

In 2017, District Attorney Cruz was awarded the Youth Opioid Prevention Grant, a program funded by the Office of Massachusetts Attorney General. District Attorney Cruz partnered with the Plymouth County Drug Abuse Task Force, the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI) and the Massachusetts Teachers Associate (MTA) to provide training and technical assistance to pilot school districts interested in incorporating the Helping Traumatized Children Learn model.

According to Harvard Law School Professor Martha Minow, “Helping Traumatized Children Learn marks a major milestone in child advocacy. Based on evidence from brain research, child development, and actual classrooms, here is a road map for parents, schools, administrators, and policy makers that shows concrete and feasible steps for making schools the life raft for children who otherwise may be misunderstood and abandoned by the community.” As Dr. Felitti demonstrates with his ACEs research, these are the kids, abandoned with untreated ACEs, which are at the greatest risk for addiction.

Learn more about ACEs:

ACEs in the News