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History of Handle with Care in Michigan

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The Handle With Care model was developed in West Virginia by the WV Children’s Justice Task Force and the US Attorney’s Office for the South District of West Virginia. In 2009 the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention published a study on children’s exposure to violence and it was a wakeup call to see just how prevalent children’s exposure to violence is in their homes, schools and communities. Nationally, Attorney General Eric Holder launched the Defending Childhood initiative on September 23, 2010, to address a national crisis: the exposure of America’s children to violence as victims and as witnesses. The WV Children’s Justice Task Force in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the South District of West Virginia formed a subcommittee in 2011 to explore programing to look at the problem of children’s exposure to violence and to look for programming that could help mitigate the negative effects of trauma on children.

The West Virginia Defending Childhood Initiative, commonly referred to as “Handle With Care,” was tailored to reflect the needs and issues affecting children in West Virginia. The Initiative, a result of a collaborative effort of key stakeholders and partners, builds upon the success of proven programs throughout the country. 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.

Michigan’s Handle With Care initiative was started in Jackson County when a core team of community stakeholders agreed that what they were doing in W. Virginia would be a great fit for their community. Handle With Care seemed to compliment a variety of collaborative efforts that were already taking place in Jackson County. The goals and the work of the program allow children and youth to remain in school and in their classrooms for better learning, which is supported by the Jackson County School Justice Partnership and Jackson’s Cradle to Career network; it allows for all members of our community to understand and respond to trauma in a positive manner, which is the Trauma Support Network; and it provides for the possibility of on-site mental health services in the schools, which is supported by work with Project AWARE in Jackson (and Hillsdale) Counties.

The Handle With Care Implementation Team in Jackson Michigan, comprised of law enforcement, educators, mental health providers and the MDHHS director, spent the last half of 2016 working together to create a plan for implementation. Review of Handle With Care occurred and the agency administrators and chiefs of law enforcement agencies approved the project.

The Jackson County Handle With Care Team initially planned to pilot in two school districts and with two law enforcement agencies. But as it was discussed further and because Michigan allows for “schools of choice” it was determined that in order to be successful the pilot would be county wide.  Of note is that this included all public, parochial and charter schools as well. In the fall of 2016, Zoe Lyons of the MDHHS Jackson office, Adam Williams of the Jackson Police Department and Michelle McBean of Northwest Community Schools  helped with a successful presentation of the program to the county school superintendents and police chiefs. There were also three community meetings held prior to implementation in which all members of the community were invited to hear more about Handle With Care.

During the four month pilot Jackson County law enforcement agencies provided notices to the schools involving 171 children! In line with the findings from W. Virginia, trauma informed school interventions are enough to help 90% of the identified children. For the approximately 10% remaining, on-site mental health services are needed.  An added benefit is that the relationships between education and Law Enforcement as well as the overall community, have been strengthened. The Handle With Care notices became an invitation to collaboration.

  • Law Enforcement officials routinely call and interact with the schools.
  • Teachers were better able to address issues in the classroom.
  • Mental Health providers were able to see children interacting in their school environments.

Handle With Care became a magnet to assist agencies in working together, building community trust and most importantly helping children who were struggling with the effects of trauma.

Handle With Care gains more and more interest every day from all over the state of Michigan and all over the nation. In June 2017 and again in the winter/spring 2019, members of the Jackson County Handle With Care team provided training sessions about “How to bring Handle With Care to your Community” all over the state. In July of 2017 the Handle With Care Michigan website was launched by Jackson County which was done in coordination with West Virginia and mirrored their website. In October of 2017 Eaton County launched their Handle With Care program and in February of 2018 Washtenaw County did the same.

In 2018, a statewide coordinator for Handle With Care was established within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Child and Adolescent Health. The coordinator’s role is provide support and resources to all Michigan communities that wish to implement Handle With Care.

In 2019, a Handle With Care Statewide Advisory Committee was created to provide input and expertise to the initiative and work on long term sustainability.


Handle With Care