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Children exposed to traumatic events can struggle to focus, learn, and thrive in school.
In the aftermath of a traumatic event, the school setting might potentially buffer or aggravate the negative effects of toxic stress.
Worse, school personnel often have no idea what kind of internal wounds their students bring to class, thus are not prepared to act as buffers.
What is Handle With Care?
Handle With Care is a West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice’s program promotes communication and collaboration with police, schools, and mental health leaders to help children who’ve experienced trauma.
It enables local police to notify school districts when they encounter a child at a traumatic scene, so the school staff and mental healthcare providers can then provide immediate support for students.
The program has three main components:
- Law enforcement notice — When law enforcement identifies a child at the scene of a traumatic event (domestic violence, meth lab explosion, drug raid, shooting, etc.), they will send a confidential notification (by email, text, phone, or fax) to the student’s school district or childcare agency with four pieces of information: the child’s name, age, school name, and a message to “Handle With Care.” Law enforcement does not share any details of the incident.
- Trauma-informed school training — The school district or childcare agency will create a process to triage “Handle With Care” notifications from police to relevant teachers and staff. These individuals are trained to observe the student’s behavior and respond to their needs using trauma-sensitive interventions.
- School-located therapy — When school interventions are not sufficient, mental health professionals trained in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior therapy can provide on-site treatment at schools during a time that is least disruptive to the student’s academic schedule (with consent from the parent or guardian).
Handle with Care is being implemented in 65 cities in 25 states.
For example, the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) and three city school districts collaborated to pilot the Handle With Care program in one of the six patrol areas serving 48 schools.
Nevada State Law
On June 12, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed Senate Bill 80 into law, which was unanimously passed by the Senate and Assembly
The bill orders the establishment of the Handle with Care program within the Office for a Safe and Respectful Learning Environment within the Department of Education.
Existing state law included the SafeVoice program — an initiative requiring the same office to receive anonymous tips regarding dangerous, violent, or unlawful activity. They would then send a notification to certain trained personnel in the school to check in on the student and take appropriate action.
The Handle with Care program will be an addition to this existing notification system.
However, beyond anonymous tips, the new law instructs law enforcement officers and staff to notify the Handle with Care Program of a traumatic occurrence if the event involves:
- domestic violence in the presence of the child
- the death of a member of the family or household of the child
- the arrest of a parent or guardian of the child in the presence of the child
- child abuse or neglect
The new law also authorizes officers and staff to notify the Handle with Care if a child has been exposed trauma.
Delaware’s (9.5% Latino) Congress passed a similar bill allowing police officers and emergency-care providers to notify schools if a child is present at a traumatic event. The law is ready for Governor John Carney’s signature.
What Can You Do?
Beside Nevada, 65 other localities have started Handle With Care.
You can get Handle With Care started in your community, too!
Download the free Salud America! “Handle With Care Action Pack” to start a Handle With Care program, in which police notify schools when they encounter children at a traumatic scene, so schools can provide support right away.
The Action Pack, which contains materials and technical assistance to help school and police leaders everywhere plan their own Handle With Care program, was created by Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of the Salud America! Latino health equity program at UT Health San Antonio, with help from the West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice, which started the Handle With Care program in 2013.