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Sheriff Todd Gibson and members of the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office are partnering with area schools to protect children who have been exposed to violence or other trauma.
In conjunction with Lexington, Little Axe, and Noble Pubic Schools the Sheriff’s Office is implementing Handle with Care, a program tailored to protect children who have been exposed to violence or other trauma. Handle-with-Care is a three-prong approach involving law enforcement, schools, and counseling.
“Children who have experienced violence, abuse or other trauma in their homes or environments should not be traumatized again by other unsuspecting adults in their lives,” said Sheriff Todd Gibson. “Through communicating with schools when a child has been through an adverse childhood experience, law enforcement can make a real difference in those children’s lives.”
Studies reveal that 60 percent of American children have been exposed to violence, crime or abuse while 40 percent have been 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, leading kids to act out. When school officials don’t know why a child is acting out, that trauma can result in truancy, suspension or expulsion, dropping out, and even involvement in the juvenile justice system.
“Relationships are key to the success of the Handle with Care program,” Gibson said. “We will give a heads-up to Cleveland County schools when we know a child has experienced a traumatic event. The schools then know not to punish the child for acting out, but rather to provide intervention to help the recovery process.”
Handle with Care is designed to promote a safe and supportive environment through community partnerships that aim at ensuring that children who are exposed to trauma in their home, school or community receive appropriate interventions. The ultimate goal of Handle with Care is to help students succeed.
Regardless of the source of trauma, the common thread for effective intervention is the school. Research shows that trauma can undermine children’s ability to learn, form relationships, and function appropriately in the classroom. By supporting children exposed to trauma and violence through improved communications and collaboration between law enforcement, schools and mental health providers, we can connect children and their families with the services they need.
The Sheriff’s Office will provide the school with a “heads up” when a child has been identified at the scene of a traumatic event. It could be a domestic violence situation, a shooting, witnessing a malicious criminal act, being a victim of a crime, or seeing a family member arrested. Deputies will be trained to identify children at the scene, find out where they go to school, and send the school a confidential email or text that simply says . . . “Handle name of student, grade, with care.”
That’s it. No other details.
In addition to providing notice, deputies also will build positive relationships with students by interacting with them on the school campus. They will visit classrooms, stop by for lunch and simply chat with students to help promote positive relationships and perceptions of the law enforcement profession.
Educators have been trained on the impact of trauma on learning, and are incorporating many interventions to lessen the negative impact of trauma for identified students. Schools can also implement school-wide interventions to create a trauma-sensitive school, some examples: Greeters, pairing students with an adult mentor, 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.
Sheriff Gibson said he appreciates public school superintendents Chad Hall of Lexington, Jay Thomas of Little Axe, and Frank Solomon of Noble, for partnering with the Sheriff’s Office in this important endeavor.
“We know our schools care and will ensure that Cleveland County children’s welfare is a top priority,” Gibson said. “The Sheriff’s Office is fortunate to be part of such a compassionate and caring community. Partnerships make us more effective.”
Gibson’s goal is to reach out to all schools in the Cleveland County area in hopes of establishing this program for all schools.