CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An outside evaluation of the Handle With Care program which is focused on notice for schools of potentially traumatic police incidents involving students along with staff training and school therapy to address the effects, is due to be completed soon.
It’s the first such independent review for the program that got its start in the Mountain State and has been pitched in all 55 counties, said Andrea Darr, director of the West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice in the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit.
As new Handle With Care programs launch across the U.S., “I wanted them to see where it’s working well (in West Virginia) and where it’s not working and, if it’s not working, why it’s not working,” Darr said.
Handle With Care has three components: (1) notice, (2) trauma-informed school training for teachers and school staff and (3) on-site school therapy provided by local mental health providers.
In terms of notice, law enforcement officers involved in potentially traumatic incidents when children are present, but are not crime victims or referrals for Child Protective Services collect names, ages and schools the kids attend under Handle With Care.
Before the next school day, school principals receive a notification advising that the students involved should be “handled with care.”
Few other details are included in the notification.
Notices also go to additional programs like those in the afterschool hours.
The other components of Handle With Care include school personnel programming to prepare educators for addressing trauma in kids along with efforts to place therapists inside schools allowing for better accessibility to mental health services.
“What we want to see is disruptions and problems go down in the classrooms because the trauma is addressed,” Darr said of the goals of Handle With Care.
“These children come to school, they’re traumatized. The teachers are prepared to understand what trauma does to a developing brain, what it looks like and what they can do to mitigate the negative effects of that trauma.”
She said they’re trying to “change the way we look at these kids.”
Darr regularly travels to talk about Handle With Care in other parts of the U.S. where Handle With Care programs are already up and running or being launched.
A dedicated Handle With Care coordinator is on the payroll in Nashville, Tn. and there’s a state coordinator in Delaware.
The Handle With Care websites for Michigan and Maryland were created with templates from West Virginia and both Delaware and Massachusetts will launch similar sites soon.
“Our little program that we created in a subcommittee without a funding stream is just all over the country,” Darr said.
Recently, Darr received an e-mail inquiry about a possible new Handle With Care program launching on an island off the Australian coast.
“It tells you that this program is so needed,” she said.
Potential grant funding for the expansion of Handle With Care nationwide was included in the 2018 SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act.
The bipartisan legislation addressed the opioid epidemic on many fronts.
The process for the distribution of that grant funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was still be determined as of the end of March, according to Darr.
The 2019 Children’s Justice Handle With Care Conference is scheduled to begin on Oct. 16, 2019 at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.