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.
“Handle With Care,” is tailored to reflect the needs and issues affecting children in Florida. 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 affects experienced by children’s exposure to trauma, and to increase knowledge and awareness of this issue.
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.
Handle with Care Florida, coordinated by Drug Free Manatee, is working toward identifying other counties and coalitions in Florida who are interested in launching their own Handle with Care initiative. Drug Free Manatee and its partners will mentor groups across the state to apply best practices and fidelity for successful Handle with Care projects. Interested communities can contact Drug Free Manatee or any of its partners to discuss starting an initiative through contacts provided on this website.