By Peggy Mackenzie
On Mar. 25, leaders in the court system, law enforcement and the school system joined together at the Greenbrier County Courthouse to discuss ways to help children exposed to violence in their homes. The presentation was held to inform local educators, mental health professionals, child protective service workers, and police officers about integrating the West Virginia Defending Childhood Initiative, commonly referred as Handle With Care, into the community to address children’s exposure to violence and trauma.
Judge James J. Rowe of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Greenbrier County invited the key stakeholders of the strategy to explain how it has worked in other schools in the state.
“We all share responsibility to see that our children are safe and healthy,” Rowe said in his opening remarks, as cited in The Register-Herald.
United States District Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia R. Booth Goodwin, Commander of the Metro Drug Task Force Chad Napier and others spoke about the Handle With Care Initiative as a joint effort to prevent children’s exposure to violence, increase awareness of the issue, and to help support the child exposed.
Nationally, 60 percent of children have been exposed to violence, crime or abuse. Forty percent are direct victims of two or more violent acts. According to officials, repeated or prolonged exposure to violence and trauma seriously impacts a child’s ability to focus, behave appropriately and learn in school.
Goodwin asked the people in attendance to put themselves in a child’s shoes who has witnessed violence at home. “The teacher takes you by the arm and leads you down to the principle office. You’re too scared, too embarrassed, too everything to tell her or the principle what happened to you the night before,” he said.
Essentially, the initiative protocol would start with whenever law enforcement is brought into a home where a child is present and has been exposed to trauma, the officer in charge would then send a Handle With Care notice to the school, with only the minimal notation of the child’s name, age, and date of the incident. Teachers are thus made aware to provide that child with support while at school, be it to go to the nurse, see a counselor or mental health provider.
Law enforcement is also encouraged to develop and improve positive relationships with students by routinely visiting, eating lunch, and interacting with student in non-crisis situations, as reported in The West Virginia Daily News.
The key component of the program, stated Andrea Darr with the West Virginia Children’s Justice Task Force, is collaboration between all parties involved.
“Integrating the initiative into schools as early as possible is key,” said Goodwin.