Handle with Care (HWC)

Purpose & Goals:

Handle with Care is an initiative, originally designed in West Virginia, to promote communication between local law enforcement and schools. When law enforcement, or other first responders are on the scene of an incident that school-aged children witnessed or experienced, emergency responders will find out what school the child attends and a “Handle with Care” notice will be sent to the child’s school by the next day. School staff are encouraged to use trauma informed care with the child and observing for potential signs of trauma that the child may have experienced that is affecting his or her behavior or ability to successful in school. If additional support for the child is needed, the school will then contact those additional resources for the child. The number one goal of this program is to help students continue to see educational success daily.


Adverse childhood experiences unfortunately happen to our youth. Sixty percent of US children have been exposed to violence, crime, or abuse. These students still go to school. They are expected to do the same work at the same time, all while carrying with them the traumatic experience from the night before. Because of these traumatic experiences, a child’s behavior, grades, and truancy are areas that could be negatively affected. School officials and teachers do not always know that a child may have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Yet, children are still expected to perform as if nothing has happened. The “Handle With Care” program allows teachers to mitigate the stress of the traumatized child by showing grace, patience and understanding in the following days and weeks. This allows the child to continue to positively grow in their personal and educational journey. There is no explanation of what happened, just a notice with the child’s name and the words, “Handle with Care”. 


The key to the “Handle With Care” program’s success is positive relationships forged among local emergency responders, the school district, and the mental healthcare stakeholders. Important contributors include teachers, counselors, nurses, paraprofessionals, secretaries, bus drivers, lunch staff, etc.-anyone who has contact with the students daily. Teachers and staff monitor the child for signs of trauma at the time of the notice. If anyone notices signs of trauma, they will then contact the appropriate services to help the child. The impact trauma has on a student is not always immediate. Every child reacts differently. It is important that we maintain this information, even weeks/months after the traumatic event.

The Handle With Care "Model"

If an emergency responder encounters a child during a call, that child’s name and three simple words, “HANDLE WITH CARE”, are forwarded to the school or after school care before the school bell rings the next day.


$0! There is no cost to this program, just TIME to make sure that students are getting their needs met, and that they have a caring and compassionate team that truly cares about them and their well-being!

Program Requirements

Minimum key stakeholder representation: School District, Emergency Responders (LE, Fire & EMS), Mental Health Provider. Teams and After School Care are encouraged to include other key stakeholders i.e., Child Protective Services’, victim advocacy programs, community programs, parent organizations, etc.