April 27, 2018

Legislation Introduced to Expand West Virginia's Handle with Care Program | Beckley Register-Herald

A group of U.S. Senators have introduced the Handle with Care Act to recognize and build on the successful program in West Virginia, which aids children impacted by the opioid epidemic.

The Handle with Care program connects children who interact with law enforcement in domestic violence situations, drug raids, overdoses, and more, to school resources that are designed to provide the child with trauma-informed care.

The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va.

“The impact of the opioid epidemic is felt across West Virginia but the impact on our innocent children is perhaps the most devastating of all,” Manchin said. “Our schools should serve as a refuge for every child and I am proud of the Handle with Care program developed in West Virginia to ensure our children experiencing trauma at home are treated with love and understanding at school.”

He said the Handle with Care Act aims to expand the program to schools across the country.

Specifically, the Act would authorize $10 million in federal funding to establish five-year demonstration grants for states to address the impact of substance use related and other trauma on children and youth in public schools by strengthening or building Handle with Care programs.

These programs would develop and share evidence-based or evidence-informed training for trauma informed care and provide that training in schools connected to the program; connect students who experience trauma at home to those resources in schools via the “Handle with Care” alert from law enforcement; and require programs to report on the success of the Handle with Care programs in improving student outcomes.

“Many of West Virginia’s youth look to their teachers and schools for guidance and protection — especially after experiencing a traumatic event,” Capito said.

Due to the rise of the opioid epidemic, Capito said children are experiencing trauma more frequently.

“The Handle With Care program has been instrumental in helping young West Virginians cope with the negative effects they may be experiencing after a traumatic event. By preparing our teachers and schools, they will be able to better provide the necessary and appropriate support for students who need it the most.”

Andrea Darr, Director of the WV Center for Children’s Justice, said trauma “turns off the learning switch” for children, but Handle with Care helps turn that switch back on.

“Handle with Care helps identify children most at risk, provides teachers with supports to address that trauma and advocates for co-located therapy services with professionals who specialize in trauma,” Darr said. “The partnership between Law Enforcement, Schools and Mental Health Professionals give trauma exposed children the best chance for succeeding in school and in life.” 

The Handle with Care program is as simple as law enforcement sending a “Handle with Care” alert to the child’s school. While the school does not receive any information other than the child’s name and the alert, it enables the school to exercise the trauma-informed training provided in coordination with the Handle with Care program.

The goal of the program is to promote safe schools, and communities, while ensuring that every child is able to thrive in school even when they face trauma at home.

By:  Wendy Holdren