Frequently Asked Questions


A recent national survey of the incidence and prevalence of children’s exposure to violence and trauma revealed that 60% of American children have been exposed to violence, crime or abuse. Forty percent were direct victims of two or more violent acts. Prolonged exposure to violence and trauma can seriously undermine children’s ability to focus, behave appropriately, and learn in school. It often leads to school failure, truancy, suspension or expulsion, dropping out, or involvement in the juvenile justice system.
The Michigan Initiative, commonly referred to as “Handle With Care,” is tailored to reflect the needs and issues affecting children in Michigan. The Initiative, a result of a collaborative effort of key stakeholders and partners, builds upon the success of proven programs throughout the country, and taken primarily from W. Virginia’s Defending Childhood Initiative. 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. At the end of the day, through Handle With Care, children will remain in their schools and classrooms and be better able to function and learn.
The program is very simple: Law enforcement officers at the scene of crime, violence and/or abuse are identifying children at the scene who have been exposed to trauma. The child’s name, age and school is sent by Law Enforcement in a confidential notice to the child’s school before the child starts school the next day. There is no information being given except for the child’s name and these three words “handle with care.” Schools are learning how to be trauma sensitive and identifying interventions that will mitigate the negative effects of trauma on the children. So if the child acts out, the teacher has a heads up and might send the child to the counselor instead of the principle, give the child extra time to do a project or postpone a test. When school interventions are not sufficient, therapists can provide services on site at the school for children who need therapy.
In short, it came from 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. Locally, Michigan’s HWC 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 our own community.
The HWC 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 guidelines for implementation. Review of the protocols occurred and the agency administrators and chiefs of law enforcement agencies approved the project. With that we had what we needed to address the needs of children traumatized by violence in their homes, schools and communities. Three words . . . Handle With Care.
The Jackson County HWC 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 “school of choice” it was determined that in order to really be successful we would need to pilot the program county wide. 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 School District helped sell the program to the county school superintendents and police chiefs. There were also three community meetings held prior to implementation in which all were welcome to hear more about Handle With Care.


Law enforcement officers were sought out to provide suggestions on how best to make the notices to the schools. The communication methods of phone, text, fax and email were explored. One of our law enforcement partners suggested each of the school districts creating their own Handle With Care email account such as “” and this seemed to work best, with the best chance of consistent response. In no time at all each district created their email account and assigned specific people to receive the emails sent to that address. Each law enforcement agency then presented the procedure for notices to their officers in their internal meetings. Once officers understood the process and the benefits to the children, the five minutes it took to record and send the information has become part of the routine. At first they questioned whether or not to send the notice and quickly learned, if you have to ask, you need to send it. It could be a meth lab explosion, a domestic violence situation, a shooting in the neighborhood, witnessing a homicide, or a drug raid at the home. If children are present, Law Enforcement need to identify children at the scene, find out where they go to school and send the school a confidential email that simply says . . . “Handle Johnny with care.” That’s it. No other details. In addition to providing notice, officers also started building positive relationships with students by interacting on a regular basis. They visit classrooms, stop by for lunch, and simply chat with students to help promote positive relationships and perceptions of officers.


In both W. Virginia and Michigan, teachers and school personnel have been trained on the impact of trauma on learning, and how to incorporate strategies and interventions into their classrooms in order to mitigate the negative impact of trauma for identified students. Suggested strategies include: sending students to a reset area to rest (when a HWC has been received and the child is having trouble staying awake or focusing); re-teaching lessons; postponing testing; small group counseling by school counselors; and referrals to mental health, social service or advocacy services and supports. Schools have also implemented school-wide interventions to help create a trauma sensitive school. Some of these interventions include: greeters; pairing students with an adult mentor in the school; utilization of a therapy dog; and “thumbs up/thumbs down” to indicate if a student is having a good day or a bad day.


When identified students exhibit continued behavioral or emotional problems in the classroom, the counselor or principal refers the parent to a counseling agency which provides a trauma assessment and if needed, trauma-focused therapy. Currently, there are two partnering agencies providing trauma focused therapy on site at the school in a room provided by school. Once the counseling agency has received a referral and parental consent, students can receive on-site counseling. The counseling is provided to children and families at times which are least disruptive for the student. The counselors also participate in MDT, IEP, SAT and other meetings deemed necessary by school personnel, and as authorized by the child’s parent or guardian. Counselors may provide assessments of the child’s need, psychological testing, treatment recommendations, accommodation recommendations, and status updates to key school personnel as authorized by the parent or guardian.
Initially, HWC experienced hurdles. But during the four month pilot Jackson County law enforcement agencies provided notices involving 171 children! In line with the findings in W. Virginia, school interventions are enough to help 90% of the identified children but for others on site counseling is needed. Approximately 10% are now receiving or have received vital counseling services on-site at school. Additionally, the relationships between education and Law Enforcement and the overall community have been strengthened. The notices became an invitation to collaboration. Law Enforcement 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 become a magnet to assist agencies in working together, build community trust and most importantly help children struggling with the effects of trauma.
  • There are very few challenges HWC encounters. Lack of resources, while always a challenge, has never been a barrier to implementation. The HWC program was started and continues without a funding stream. Agency’s allowed employees to contribute their time and effort to the program. Resources were leveraged to provide technical assistance and travel.
  • Finding time for school to do the strategic planning for HWC in addition to their many other training mandates can be difficult but schools who have implemented HWC have found the trauma training is well worth the benefits.
  • Law Enforcement has been on board from the beginning, but this is a systems level change, so while everyone is willing to participate we continue to see ways to keep our police officers engaged so that they remember to do the notices. All of the head personnel at the police departments are extremely supportive.
  • One of the biggest barriers is finding mental health providers that are certified in Trauma Focused-CBT. We simply need more mental health providers in the state.
  • Maintaining fidelity to the program is essential. It is worth it to ensure proper planning time and to not rush the implementation.

Handle with Care gains more and more interest every day from around the state of Michigan. We learned about it from West Virginia and there is interest from around the country. In June 2017, the Handle With Care implementation team from Jackson County is providing two sessions of “How to bring Handle With Care to your Community.” This is in response to overwhelming interest and support. In addition, West Virginia has agreed to provide us with all of their website information and we have purchased the equivalent of WV’s website which will be up and running by around July 1, 2017 as Handle With Care Michigan. This will provide our own personnel in Michigan with Michigan specific resources and information. The site will include easy access to information, forms, and protocols on the programs. It will also have the WV 60 minute webinar on Handle with Care for interested parties to watch at a time convenient to their schedules.

As Handle With Care Michigan continues to grow, we hope it will find a central processing point. For now, Jackson is prepared to continue to provide support for the initiative. We will be scheduling follow up meetings that will likely occur on a regional level to provide continued support and learning for the teams from each county.