Handle With Care program to be implemented in more W.Va. schools

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An initiative for police officers to notify schools when children witness a traumatic event at home is gaining a lot of attention from school systems statewide.

“There are about 11 to 20, I’m guessing, counties who have expressed interest in getting the training,” said Dr. Carol Smith, a member of the American Counseling Association and associate professor of counseling at Marshall University.

The training is for the Handle With Care program. The system that began in Charleston last year provides additional support and counseling to students who may be in abusive homes.

Smith said the program starts with a notification that informs parents, law enforcement and the child’s school about the traumatic event in a confidential manner. The note will say the child needs to be “handled with care.”

“It involves teachers and administrators at the school learning how to create a more safe and secure school environment, but also knowing when to refer a child for counseling,” Smith said.

Since the implementation of the program, Smith said school counselors have been able to gain an understanding of what’s causing some of the problems.

“Does it add to their workload? Yes and no. In some ways, it adds one more thing to think about, but in other ways, if we think about it proactively it may actually lesson the workload because we’ll have less behavioral incidents in school,” she said.

Smith said it’s easy for a teacher to only react to a student’s behavior without knowing all the facts about what’s causing he or she to act that way.

“This training helps us to wait just that nanosecond to say ‘wait a second. What’s behind the behavior? What might be going on in this child’s life? How can we be part of the solution instead of part of the problem?'” she said.

In Oct. 2015, President Barack Obama visited Charleston to discuss the drug epidemic in West Virginia and across our nation. During that time, Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster mentioned the Handle With Care program to the President — something Smith said she was pleased to hear.

“I’m just thrilled that President Obama had ears to hear it and say ‘hey, wow this sounds good. Let’s see what comes from this,” she said of her hopes for the program to be a national model for schools in the United States.

The Handle With Care initiative was developed by the West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice.

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