Looking through my email I saw “Handle with Care” in the subject line along with a student’s name. I became nervous, anxious, and then concerned for the student, thinking, “this has begun… it is a reality now.” It was the first time a name had come to me since we began Handle with Care (HWC), a limited pilot process through our police department and school district. I couldn’t believe that this system was already working! I walked down to check on the student and advise the teacher to handle that student with care.
It is not something that we created, but something many believed was needed in our community. HWC is an initiative started in Northern Illinois based off of the direction of West Virginia and Michigan.
The Handle with Care Model is: If a law enforcement officer encounters a child during a call, that child’s name and three words, “Handle with Care,” are forwarded to the school before the school bell rings the next day. The school implements individual, class and whole school trauma-sensitive curricula so that traumatized children are handled with care. If a child needs more intervention, on-site trauma-focused mental healthcare is available at the school.
In our community, if there is a significant incident that may cause trauma for a student, the officer alerts our School Resource Officer, who sends the name to the respective school. It does not come with details, as confidentiality must be first and foremost, but with this initiative, it isn’t what is in the details of the event that are the focus: it is how we treat, approach, and work with the student who has been through something with law enforcement that could be stressful. Now the appropriate staff members in our school know and can use a trauma informed lens when working with the student.
The opportunity to implement this program presented itself after I attended Starr’s trauma informed, resilience focused trainings to become a Certified Trauma Practitioner. After completing my certification, I was invited to be on a committee that not only looks at trauma in education, but in the community. The Winnebago County Health Department in Northern Illinois has started a Trauma Informed Community group, which is comprised of multiple sub committees, including: Handle with Care, a Trauma Informed Film Series, Training for Businesses and Organizations, and a Public Awareness Campaign.
We are continuing to work with police to implement this program further. We know we are on the right track, in part because of the knowledge gained from the Starr trainings. This initiative reinforces our trauma informed school process that we are in the second year of implementing.
The Handle with Care Program can happen anywhere and with anyone who wishes to have a trauma informed community and school connectedness with the police and families. Although this is only a pilot program for us at this time, our goal is to continue and grow to help students at every school in our county and beyond. We believe we can transform, heal and help students thrive by creating a safe place and working together as a school and community. Learn how to start to implement this initiative by visiting handlewithcarewv.org or handlewithcaremi.org. You can also view a news piece on HWC in the Harlem School District here.