It’s a sobering, but true fact that Oklahoma leads the nation in the instances of childhood trauma. Although it’s not something we like to think about, many children right here in Love County are exposed to traumatic situations frequently. Abandonment and neglect, physical abuse, alcohol or drug abuse in the home, incarceration of a loved one, removal from the home or separation from family, or even chronic financial inconsistency is, for many children, the norm rather than the exception.
A recent national survey shows that 60 percent of American children have been exposed to violence, crime or abuse, and that 40 percent were direct victims of two or more violent acts.
Prolonged exposure to trauma can manifest itself in a child’s inability to focus, behave appropriately, and learn, which in turn leads to school failure, truancy, and a list of less desirable consequences. While schools cannot prevent trauma, they are seeking ways to counteract its effects on their students.
One way that Marietta Public Schools is trying to mitigate trauma to their students is by adopting a new program called Handle With Care, which promotes relationships between law enforcement officers and schools in order to ensure that children who are exposed to trauma receive the interventions necessary to help them succeed at school despite the traumatic situations they may endure.
Superintendent Brandi Naylor learned of the program at a meeting of the Love County Coalition.
The program’s premise is very simple: when law enforcement officers respond to a call that involves children, they ask for their ages and whether or not they’re in school. If so, the officer simply emails the school the child’s name and the words “Handle With Care.”
From there, the school principal gets the information to the appropriate staff members. The staff does not question or confront the child, but simply observes to make sure there isn’t an issue that needs to receive some extra attention.
“The school receives no information about details of the case, so there is no breech of confidentiality – no one at school knows about people’s personal business,” said School Resource Officer Brett Harris, who has taken the lead on the project. “All the school knows is that we have a student or students who need a little extra attention and care at school.”
Organizers met on Monday, December 2 to discuss implementation of the program.
“We welcome the opportunity to partner with other community services like our City Police Department and the Love County Sheriff’s Office,” said Naylor. “Each time we meet, I am encouraged by how much these officers care about our students and how eager they always are to help us focus on the well-being of these children.”
At the December 2 meeting, Naylor, along with Love County Sheriff Marty Grisham and Marietta Police Chief Dustin Scott signed an agreement to work cooperatively in the program, and sadly, the school has already received several “Handle With Care” emails.
“This program is great,” said Elementary Counselor Heather McMahon, “because it gives us a heads-up so we can prepare for the consequences of the situations our students are dealing with, and be sure to make some positive contact with them.”
There is no expense for the program. All it costs is a little time on the officer’s part to gather some information and send an email, and a little time on the school’s part to get the information to the correct people. That’s time well spent when weighed against the benefit to a child who needs a little extra care.
“We know that it doesn’t excuse bad behavior,” said Harris, “but knowing that trauma has occurred allows school employees to address issues before they become problems. When the school is aware of the situation, we can combat it immediately as opposed to finding out months down the road when it’s too late to do anything about it.
“Handle With Care allows us to be proactive instead of reactive,” he continued. “When trauma occurs in the lives of our students, we know it turns off the learning switch. Now one of our goals is to handle those students with care and turn that switch back on.”