Handle With Care
A recent national survey of the incidence and prevalence of children’s exposure to violence and trauma (NatSCEV II) which was conducted in 2011 as a followup to the original NatSCEV I survey. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sponsored both surveys. These surveys revealed that 60% of American children have been exposed to violence, crime or abuse. Forty percent 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. It often leads to school failure, truancy, suspension or expulsion, dropping out, or involvement in the juvenile justice system.
(For more information on NatSCEV I, see “History of the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence”).
revealed that 60% of American children have been exposed to violence, crime or abuse. Forty percent 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. It often leads to school failure, truancy, suspension or expulsion, dropping out, or involvement in the juvenile justice system.
When Hancock County first heard about Handle With Care it seemed the perfect fit with what we were doing in so many of our collaborative areas. The goals and the work of the program would allow for children and youth to remain in school and in their classrooms for better learning, which is supported by our Trauma Informed Care Initiative; it would allow for all members of our community to understand and respond to trauma in a positive manner.
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, age and school is sent by Law Enforcement in a confidential notice to the child’s school before the child starts school the next day. There is no information being given except for the child’s name and these three words “handle with care.” Schools are learning how to be trauma sensitive and identifying interventions that will mitigate the negative effects of trauma on the children. So if the child acts out, the teacher has a heads up and might send the child to the counselor instead of the principle, give the child extra time to do a project or postpone a test. When school interventions are not sufficient, therapists can provide services on site at the school for children who need therapy.
"Handle with Care" provides the school with a “heads up” when a child has been identified at the scene of a traumatic event. It could be a meth lab explosion, a domestic violence situation, a shooting in the neighborhood, witnessing a malicious wounding, a drug raid at the home, a motor vehicle accident, etc. Police are trained to identify children at the scene, then notify the child's school through email or law enforcement form page of website.
In addition to providing notice, officers also build positive relationships with students by interacting on a regular basis. They visit classrooms, stop by for lunch, and simply chat with students to help promote positive relationships and perceptions of officers.
Teachers that have been trained on the impact of trauma on learning and are incorporating many interventions to mitigate the negative impact of trauma for identified students, including: sending students to the nurse/clinic to rest (when a HWC has been received and the child is having trouble staying awake or focusing); re-teaching lessons; postponing testing; small group counseling by school counselors; and referrals to counseling, social service or advocacy programs. As we move forward, the schools may also implement school or district-wide interventions to help create a trauma sensitive school (Greeters; pairing students with an adult mentor in the school; utilization of a therapy dog; “thumbs up/thumbs down” to indicate if a student is having a good day or a bad day; and “Chill” Passes).
When identified students exhibit continued behavioral or emotional problems in the classroom, the counselor or principal refers the caregiver to a counseling agency which provides treatment and potentially trauma-focused therapy. Once the counseling agency has received a referral and parental consent, students may then receive on-site counseling.
The counseling is provided to children and families at times which are least disruptive for the student. The mental health therapists may also participate in meetings deemed necessary by school personnel, and as authorized by the child’s parent or guardian. Counselors and mental health therapists may provide assessments of the child’s need, psychological testing, treatment recommendations, accommodation recommendations, and status updates to key school personnel as authorized by the child’s parent or guardian.