MADISON - A program created to protect children who have experienced a traumatic event will see a reboot in Boone County after a class was hosted by the Boone County Sheriff's Office last week.
Andrea Darr from the West Virginia Center For Children's Justice taught the class and answered questions after the session.
Essentially, the program promotes a simple-to-use tool to communicate with a school regarding a child who has experienced trauma the day before without crossing privacy boundaries. This provides educators with insight into what the child may be facing at home and how it may affect their mental and physical well-being.
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/child care agency 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.
According to their web site, The West Virginia Defending Childhood Initiative, commonly referred to as "Handle With Care," is 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 effects experienced by children's exposure to trauma, and to increase knowledge and awareness of the issue.
Chief Deputy Chad Barker, with 19 years of law enforcement experience, said the program is an effective tool.
"In law enforcement, we regularly see children who are subjected to serious situations," he said via email. "Thinking back through the years, I can't imagine how kids successfully deal with the trauma they have been exposed to and for them to be able to go to school and accomplish anything at all is amazing in itself. When they arrive in the classroom, a lot of times, the teachers have no idea what that child has been exposed to the night before."
Barker hopes that bringing the program to the forefront in Boone County will once again engage others to put the initiative to use.
"We hope this program helps bridge that gap and gets these children a little extra love and kindness the next day at school," he said. "In working with Mrs Darr and Handle with Care, our intentions are to help implement this program county wide to include all first responders. The beauty of this program is in its simplicity. We hope that by facilitating this training and pushing for participation from all first responders, we can play a small part in helping children overcome these traumatic experiences."
Darr spoke about the effects that a traumatic experience at home can have on a child's day at school.
"We want to ensure that children who have been exposed to crime, violence and abuse succeed to the very best of their ability in the classroom," she said. "Research tells us that trauma negatively affects a child's ability to learn in the classroom."
Boone County Circuit Judge William Thompson supports the program and hopes to see it used by agencies across the county.
"This is a great program that has had a lot of success across the state and on a national level," Thompson said. "For whatever reason it hasn't taken off here as well as it should. It starts with getting it the attention it deserves. Our Sheriff's Office has shown support for it, but I hope our other agencies in the county will come on board and use it."
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com or call 304-307-2402.