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 “HWC@districttag.org” 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.