Q. How does trauma affect children’s well-being and ability to learn?
A. A national survey of the incidence and prevalence of children’s exposure to violence and trauma revealed that 60% of American children have been exposed to violence, crime or abuse and 40% percent of American children were direct victims of two or more violent acts.
Prolonged exposure to violence and trauma can seriously undermine children’s ability to focus, behave appropriately, and learn in school. Children exposed to violence are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol; suffer from depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic disorders; fail or have difficulty in school; and become delinquent and engage in criminal behavior.
Q. How does Handle With Care help children succeed in school?
A. Handle With Care connects police departments with schools to efficiently and appropriately relay information when a child has been exposed to a traumatic event.
The school can then provide immediate and ongoing support to the child. Handle With Care is part of the Drug Endangered Children’s Initiative, which is tailored to reflect the needs and issues affecting children in Plymouth County.
The initiative, a result of a collaborative effort of key stakeholders and partners, builds upon the success of proven programs throughout the country. The goal of the initiative is to prevent children’s exposure to trauma and violence, mitigate negative affects experienced by children’s exposure to trauma, and to increase knowledge and awareness of this issue.
Q. How does Handle With Care work?
A. The program is very simple: Law enforcement officers at the scene of crime, violence and/or abuse are identifying children at the scene who have been exposed to trauma.
The child’s name and age are sent by law enforcement in a confidential notice to the child’s school before the start of the school day.
There is no information given except for the child’s name and these three words: “Handle With Care.”
Schools are being trained in trauma-sensitive policies and interventions that will mitigate the negative effects of trauma on the children.
Teachers and appropriate school staff are alerted that the student might need special attention. The school’s reaction to behavior problems could be adjusted by sending the child to the counselor instead of the principle, giving the child extra time to do a project or postponing a test.
When school interventions are not sufficient, the Drug Endangered Children’s Initiative can connect the child to additional services.
Q. What are the challenges Handle With Care encounters?
A. There are very few challenges to Handle With Care implementation. Lack of resources, while always a challenge, has never been a barrier to implementation. The Handle With Care program was started and continues without a funding stream.
- Agencies allowed employees to contribute their time to the program and resources were leveraged to provide technical assistance and travel.
- Finding time for schools to do the strategic planning for Handle With Care in addition to their many other training mandates can be difficult, but schools who have implemented Handle With Care have found the 60 minutes of training is well worth the benefits.
- Law Enforcement initially saw Handle With Care as additional paperwork, but when they see how little effort is needed and how the children benefited, they were very willing to participate.
- One of the biggest barriers is finding mental health providers in rural areas. We simply need more mental health providers in the state.
- Maintaining fidelity to the program is essential.
Q. When did Handle With Care start?
A. In 2008 The Office of Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz partnered with the Trauma Learning and Policy Initiative and Brockton Public Schools for a pilot school personnel training program on domestic and community violence.
Originally called “Helping Traumatized Children Learn,” “Handle With Care” was developed to improve communication between law enforcement and schools.
Technical assistance in the development of the program was provided by The Massachusetts Advocates for Children: Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, in collaboration with Harvard Law School and the Task Force on Children Affected by Domestic Violence. The Handle With Care model has been replicated throughout Plymouth County and beyond.
In November of 2011, Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz and his staff presented their this initiative to community stakeholders from Charleston and Huntington West Virginia at the 2011 Children’s Justice Task Force Conference.
Sharing ideas and resources between Massachusetts and West Virginia has led to widespread use of the “Handle With Care” protocol.