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A recent 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. 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.
The Michigan Initiative, commonly referred to as “Handle With Care,” is tailored to reflect the needs and issues affecting children in Michigan. The Initiative, a result of a collaborative effort of key stakeholders and partners, builds upon the success of proven programs throughout the country, and taken primarily from W. Virginia’s Defending Childhood Initiative. 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. At the end of the day, through Handle With Care, children will remain in their schools and classrooms and be better able to function and learn.
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 principal, 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.
- There are very few challenges Handle With Care encounters. 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. Agency’s allowed employees to contribute their time and effort to the program. Resources were leveraged to provide technical assistance and travel.
- Finding time for school 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 trauma training is well worth the benefits.
- Law Enforcement has been on board from the beginning, but this is a systems level change, so while everyone is willing to participate, we continue to seek ways to keep our police officers engaged so that they remember to do the notices. All of the head personnel at the police departments are extremely supportive.
- One of the biggest barriers is finding mental health providers that are certified in Trauma Focused-CBT. We simply need more mental health providers in the state.
- Maintaining fidelity to the program is essential. It is worth it to ensure proper planning time and to not rush the implementation.