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    Subject Matter Expert Kelly Gorman Explains Handle with Care

    Childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences are both addressed through Handle with Care. Image shows two adults arguing in background while child holds her head down and frowns in the foreground.

    The MCSS team is proud to occasionally have this News and Notes page act as a venue for Subject Matter Experts to share their knowledge and perspectives on topics that intersect with school safety. Today we welcome Subject Matter Expert Kelly Gorman to share more about the history, goals, and successes of the Handle with Care (HWC) program in Maryland. To learn more about HWC click here. To learn more about guest posts on the MCSS News and Notes page, click here.

    In February 2018, Governor Hogan directed that the Handle with Care (HWC) program be utilized in schools across Maryland. Over four years the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, & Victim Services (Office) implemented the HWC model with the goal of increasing trauma-informed approaches to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and prevent future victimization of children and youth.

    The program, which originated in West Virginia, continues to spread throughout the country. The goal of the initiative is to prevent children’s exposure to trauma and violence, mitigate negative effects experienced by children’s exposure to trauma, and increase knowledge and awareness of this very important issue.

    The HWC program promotes safe and supportive homes, schools, and communities that protect and help traumatized children heal and thrive. HWC promotes school-community partnerships aimed at ensuring that children who are exposed to trauma in their home, school, or community receive appropriate interventions and to help them achieve academically at their highest levels despite whatever traumatic circumstances they may have endured. The ultimate goal of HWC is to help students to succeed in school and in life.

    Handle With Care Website Header

    Research now shows that trauma and adverse childhood experiences can undermine children’s ability to learn, form relationships, and function appropriately in the classroom. Adverse childhood experiences can also lead to devastating negative outcomes – like alcohol and drug dependency – among other issues. HWC programs support children exposed to trauma and violence through improved communication and collaboration between law enforcement, schools, and mental health providers, while also connecting families, schools, and communities to mental health services. Regardless of the source of trauma, the common thread for effective intervention is at school.

    If a law enforcement officer or first responder encounters a child during a call, that child’s name and three words – “HANDLE WITH CARE”- are forwarded to the child’s school before the start of the next school day. The school implements individual, class, and whole school trauma-informed curricula so that traumatized children are “Handled with Care.” If a child needs more intervention, on and off-site trauma-focused mental healthcare is available.

    Handle with Care is unique because it connects many systems, including law enforcement/first responders, schools, mental health service providers, and parents and families. The interactions with youth from each participating agency are different, but all operate in a trauma-responsive manner. The Office encourages law enforcement/first responders to have an active presence in the schools to build trusted relationships with the youth. Further, the Office also places an emphasis on communication. This program is not meant to be kept a secret from families and communities and the Office constantly encourages the stakeholders to communicate with these groups to clearly identify the goals of the program.

    During the pandemic, while children were not reporting to school every day the Office encouraged first responders to still send HWC Notices when they encountered children during calls for service so that children and their families could receive the support that they needed.

    Currently, 19 out of 24 Maryland jurisdictions participate in the HWC Maryland program. Over 3,900 HWC notices have been sent, affecting over 4,700 students.

    In June 2019, the Office launched the HWC Maryland data dashboard, which helps to track progress across the state. The Office uses this data to ensure fidelity to the HWC model and helps drive decision-making. The dashboard can be accessed on the Handle with Care Maryland website.

    The Office continues working to reach its goal of statewide implementation of the HWC program. Each law enforcement officer, teacher, administrator, and clinician in our state has a role to play in Handle with Care Maryland. We must work together to bridge the gap for children who are placed in distressed situations, through no fault of their own, so their success is not dictated by what happens to them.

    Kelly Gorman is the Statewide Handle with Care Program Coordinator at the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services. Ms. Gorman has worked to implement the Handle with Care Maryland initiative through collaboration and training with local stakeholders. She also provides staff support to the Commission on Trauma-Informed Care and the Children’s Justice Act Committee and has received specialized training on addressing adverse childhood experiences, trauma, and child abuse and neglect. Ms. Gorman graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice with a focus on human development.