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Worcester Launches Handle With Care Program

For Immediate Release: 5/16/2019 2:36 pm

The City of Worcester has partnered with the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, the Worcester Police Department, the Worcester Public Schools and the state’s Department of Children and Families to launch the nationally recognized Handle With Care program.

Created in 2013 in Charleston, West Virginia, the Handle With Care program provides notification to school personnel and teachers when a student has experienced or witnessed trauma. The program has been adopted in 20 states, including the Plymouth County area of Massachusetts.

In Worcester, the program is a complement to the Worcester Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (WYVPI), the City’s response to youth violence that is rooted in toxic stress. Through a trauma-informed lens, the WYVPI strives to decrease exposure to trauma and connect youth experiencing trauma to the appropriate supports.

“Based on the great success we’ve been able to achieve in trauma-informed care through our Worcester Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, we’re confident that the Handle With Care program will serve as an additional tool for us to protect our youth and ensure our schools provide the necessary resources for children dealing with traumatic life events,” said City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.

The Handle With Care model addresses the need of decreasing exposure to trauma and continues the WYVPI work of building informed communication practices with the Worcester Police Department and the Worcester Public Schools. The main goal of implementing the Handle with Care program is to help students succeed in school. Research shows that trauma can undermine children forming relationships as well as the ability to learn and function appropriately in the classroom.

When the Worcester Police Department responds to a call and finds a child who has witnessed a traumatic event, the child will be identified and a confidential message will be sent to the child’s school. No details of what happened to the child will be provided to the Worcester Public Schools other than the child’s name, school, age and the words “handle with care.” This message will serve as a notice to school personnel to be sensitive to the child’s needs due to their life circumstances.

“We look forward to participating in the Handle with Care model. We believe that identifying youth who experience toxic trauma, and connecting them with appropriate services, will help to

reduce some of the factors that lead to crime down the road. Our officers are looking forward to having a new option to assist some of our most vulnerable youth,” said Worcester Chief of Police Steven M. Sargent.

“The implementation of Handle With Care in our schools will allow school officials to provide necessary support services to children living in volatile environments that prevent them from achieving personal growth and academic success,” added Robert Pezzella, School Safety Director for the Worcester Public Schools.

The state’s Department of Children and Families will also issue “handle with care” notices to the Worcester Public Schools when they receive information of a traumatic event affecting a particular

youth. In other cases, a parent or caregiver may alert the Worcester Public Schools of home circumstances, such as a parent’s impending military deployment, a medical diagnosis or a death within a family.

“One of the toughest parts of our job in the District Attorney’s Office is dealing with families, and especially children, who have been traumatized,” said Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. “These children are among our most vulnerable citizens and deserve our help.”

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