Handle with Care: Ohio

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.
HWC promotes student success by promoting trauma informed schools and the building of resilience through relationships with school staff and first responders. HWC provides the training and notice to teachers so students receive care instead of consequence following exposure to adverse event(s).. We want students to stay connected and invested in school so each student can succeed to the best of their ability. Handle With Care builds upon the success of proven programs throughout the country. The program aims 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 or other first responders identify children at the scene of potentially traumatic events (crime, violence, fires, accidents, etc.). The child’s name, age and school is sent by first responders 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 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 West Virginia 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 2011to 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.

In 2011, this subcommittee quickly became the WV DCI Task Force. The Task Force researched national DCI initiatives and other programs around the country. WV Activist and Volunteer Mr. Leon White, who was a community partner with the U. S. Attorney’s Office, encouraged the Task Force to explore a Safe Start Initiative program launched in Brockton, MS. The WV DCI Task Force utilized components of the Brockton program, in addition to other evidence-based National Drug Endangered Children Programs and Safe Start Initiatives to develop “Handle With Care”. Technical assistance in the development of the program was provided by The Massachusetts Advocates for Children: Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, in collaboration with Harvard Law School and the Task Force on Children Affected by Domestic Violence. In November of 2011, Timothy L. Cruz and Ed Jacobs from the Brockton District Attorney’s Office presented their Safe Start Initiative to community stakeholders from Charleston and Huntington at the 2011 Children’s Justice Task Force Conference.

The DCI Task Force comprised of policy makers and practitioners spent 2012 working with law enforcement, prosecutors, educators, mental health providers, child protective services, probation officers, court personnel, school nurses, school attendance directors, and counselors to develop the program, write protocols for law enforcement officers and school staff, and to create guidelines for the programs implementation. Policy makers and attorneys for all the agency’s reviewed the proposals and the agency administrators signed off on the project and 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 DCI Task Force decided to start with a pilot school and a pilot law enforcement agency in Charleston, WV. In the spring of 2013 Chad Napier with the Charleston Police Department helped sell the program to his department of 168 officers. Janet Allio, the school nurse at the pilot school, Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary arranged time for a school wide presentation on the program and a book study on Helping Traumatized Children Learn.


Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School is in Charleston, WV. The school, located in an urban area of the city plagued by drug and violent crime, houses approximately 500 students. Ninety-three percent of the students come from low-income families. The school has ranked 398 out of 404 elementary schools in West Virginia for poor performance. In conjunction with “Handle With Care,” the United States Attorney’s Office has launched a Drug Market Intervention in the area to address high level drug and street crime.


Law enforcement officers were provided space in their reporting form for HWC but it took leadership to get the notices flowing. Once officers understood the process and the benefits to the children, the five minutes it took to record and send the information became 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 malicious wounding, 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 or fax 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.


Teachers were trained on the impact of trauma on learning, and incorporating many interventions to mitigate the negative impact of trauma for identified students, including: sending students to the clinic 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 counseling, social service or advocacy programs. The school has also implemented many school-wide interventions to help create a trauma sensitive school (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 trauma-focused therapy. Currently, there are two partnering agencies providing trauma focused therapy on site at the school in a room provided by the Family Care Health Center housed within the 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, SAT and other meetings deemed necessary by school personnel, and as authorized by the child’s parent or guardian. Counselors 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 to date, 527 notices have been provided involving 959 children! School interventions are enough to help 90% of the identified children but for others on site counseling is needed. Approximately 10% or 130 are now receiving or have received vital counseling services on-site at school. Additionally, the relationships between education and Law Enforcement have been greatly improved. 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. Child Protective Services are often given courtesy HWC notices just to keep them in the loop. 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.
  • HWC encounters very few challenges!
  • 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 60 minutes of training is well worth the benefits.
  • Law Enforcement/First Responders may initially see HWC as additional to-do item, but when they see how little effort is needed and how the children benefit, they are very willing to participate.
  • Limited availability of space for on-site counseling services can present a challenge.
  • Maintaining fidelity to the program is essential.

OhioHWC maintains contact and coordination with HWC’s county and local leaders across the state. Use the “Contact Us” tab to share your information and if the program exists in your community we will connect you with your local HWC Coordinator.

The HWC program is still a valuable resource for communities outside of the typical in-school setting, this can include summer break, holiday breaks, weekends, and extended virtual learning situations.

  • HWC Notices still sent by First Responders and received by the school HWC team
  • Notices indicate a student has experienced an ACE and provide valuable insight for school leadership
  • Affords school staff with an opportunity to provide connection (calls, postcards, virtually, etc.)
  • Allows for alternative, trauma-informed responses to best meet student needs
  • First Responders encouraged to engage with students in the community

HWC maintains privacy regarding student experiences by avoiding any event-specific information in the HWC notice. A notice only shares “Handle With Care” and the student’s name, it may also include the student’s age/grade. The notice can be sent in response to any Adverse Childhood Experience and therefore does not indicate the nature of the event – only its potential to cause a traumatic response in the student(s) present. OhioHWC’s training for school staff provides guidance for maintaining student privacy and responding in a trauma-sensitive way, including direction to avoid asking questions regarding a HWC notice. Additionally, many OhioHWC programs use a centralized notice reporting system to further protect privacy by forwarding notices from one location/sender, preventing any event specific information from being derived from the initial notice sender, e.g. fire, police, Children’s Services, etc.. The program has many protective measures in place to protect student privacy and confidentiality while also offering the “heads up” needed to allow school staff to provide additional care during a student’s time of need.