Law enforcement and schools partner to ‘Handle With Care’

ANDREA DARR, Director of West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice and designer of the Handle With Care program. J. Graham photo
ANDREA DARR, Director of West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice and designer of the Handle With Care program. J. Graham photo

Jaynell Graham

“Do kids understand trauma?
“Can they talk about it?
“Find self-help books to read?
“Talk to friends?
“Trauma affects a person for the rest of their lives if it’s not dealt with.”

Those were the words of Andrea Darr, Director of West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice, as she addressed the Pocahontas County Schools December Principals meeting.

Darr was invited to the county by Trooper Daniel Dillon of the West Virginia State Police – Marlinton Detachment.

Dillon is concerned about children who live in homes where there is drug or alcohol abuse, which often means there is also domestic violence.

He contacted Darr because of her work with a program titled “Handle With Care,” which is a partnership between law enforcement and the school system.

This project is two-fold.

Dillon wants to help children overcome their fear of law enforcement – a fear sometimes instilled in them by their parents’ threats.

“We want kids to know that we are there to help them,” Dillon said. “There are consequences for behaviors, but, with love, they will know it is not the end of the world.”

Darr laid out a scenario to relate the purpose of Handle With Care and how it works.

“It’s two in the morning,” she said. “There is a call to Dillon. It’s a domestic and drugs are involved. If there are children in the home, they are removed to a family member’s home or safe place. They come to school the next morning from a horrific scene.

“That’s where HWC comes in to help – to help them through the day. To help them study.”

Darr said lawyers and various agencies had looked at what could and couldn’t be done, and with the options that were left, they came up with “Handle With Care.”

If law enforcement is called to a home where children have been exposed to a traumatic event, the officer will get the names and ages of the children. The name or names will be emailed to Superintendent Terrance Beam at a specifically designated address. He will forward the information to the child’s teachers. But the information will not include details of the incident.

All that is relayed is the child’s name and “HWC.”

“The school is notified before the next school day,” Darr said. “Then we all handle the child with care and respond in a trauma-sensitive way. HWC does not excuse bad behavior. Children are still accountable.”

“This is a great idea,” Beam said. “It’s something we can use. It doesn’t cost anything, and it will help our kids. I think it will work.”

There are too many crimes in today’s society that are impacting kids, and law enforcement can make a difference – as a go-between in the case of Handle With Care, or in person, on school property.

“It’s all about building relationships,” Darr continued. “children usually see police when something bad happens.”

The HWC program has been initiated in several counties in West Virginia, and in addition to the program, Darr encourages law enforcement to visit schools, to eat lunch with the children, or to just walk the halls with them.

Newly elected Sheriff Jeff Barlow was at the Principals Meeting for the Handle With Care presentation, and one of his first acts after being sworn-in last week was to gather his deputies together to implement the program – and more.

“I met with uniformed personnel,” Barlow said, “and we went over Handle With Care and what was required of us.”

Beam was notified that the sheriff’s department was ready to roll with the program.

In addition, Barlow said each of his deputies has been assigned a school which they will be visiting on a weekly basis – meeting with administration, eating lunch with the kids and walking the halls. There will also be a department presence at every ball game.

The deputies will be visiting the senior centers in the county, as well.

Barlow wants his department to get back into the business of being involved with the community, so he and his deputies are more accessible to the people.

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