Handle with Care Maryland
Changing Marylandand for the Better

Frequently Asked Questions


A recent national survey of the incidence and prevalence of children’s exposure to violence and trauma revealed that 60% of American children have been exposed to violence, crime or abuse. Forty percent were 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 in school. It often leads to school failure, truancy, suspension or expulsion, dropping out, or involvement in the juvenile justice system.
Handle with Care Maryland is tailored to reflect the needs and issues affecting children throughout the State. The initiative, a result of a collaborative effort of key stakeholders and partners, builds upon the success of proven programs throughout the country, and taken primarily from West Virginia’s Defending Childhood Initiative. 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 to increase knowledge and awareness of this issue. At the end of the day, through Handle with Care, children will remain in their schools and classrooms and be better able to function and learn.
The program is very simple: Law enforcement officers at the scene of crime, violence and/or abuse are identifying children at the scene who have been exposed to trauma. The child’s name, age and school is sent by Law Enforcement in a confidential notice to the child’s school before the child starts school the next day. There is no information being given except for the child’s name and these three words “handle with care”. Schools are learning how to be trauma sensitive and identifying interventions that will mitigate the negative effects of trauma on the children. So if the child acts out, the teacher has a heads up and might send the child to the counselor instead of the principle, give the child extra time to do a project or postpone a test. When school interventions are not sufficient, therapists can provide services on site at the school for children who need therapy.
In 2009, the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention published a study on children’s exposure to violence and it was a wakeup call to see just how prevalent children’s exposure to violence is in their homes, schools and communities. The Department of Justice launched the Defending Childhood initiative on September 23, 2010 to address the exposure of America’s children to violence as victims and as witnesses. The West Virginia Children’s Justice Task Force, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the South District of West Virginia, formed a subcommittee in 2011 to explore programing to look at the problem of children’s exposure to violence. Locally, Maryland’s HWC initiative was started in Washington County when a core team of community stakeholders agreed that what they were doing in West Virginia would be a great fit for Maryland.
In 2011, this subcommittee quickly became the WV DCI Task Force. The Task Force researched national DCI initiatives and other programs around the country. WV Activist and Volunteer Mr. Leon White, who was a community partner with the U. S. Attorney’s Office, encouraged the Task Force to explore a Safe Start Initiative program launched in Brockton, MS. The WV DCI Task Force utilized components of the Brockton program, in addition to other evidence-based National Drug Endangered Children Programs and Safe Start Initiatives to develop “Handle with Care”. Technical assistance in the development of the program was provided by The Massachusetts Advocates for Children: Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, in collaboration with Harvard Law School and the Task Force on Children Affected by Domestic Violence. In November of 2011, Timothy L. Cruz and Ed Jacobs from the Brockton District Attorney’s Office presented their Safe Start Initiative to community stakeholders from Charleston and Huntington at the 2011 Children’s Justice Task Force Conference.
  • There are very few challenges HWC encounters. Lack of resources, while always a challenge, has never been a barrier to implementation. The HWC program was started and continues without a funding stream. Agency’s allowed employees to contribute their time to the effort to the program. Resources were leveraged to provide technical assistance and travel.
  • Finding time for school to do the strategic planning for HWC in addition to their many other training mandates can be difficult but schools who have implemented HWC have found the 60 minutes of training is well worth the benefits.
  • Law Enforcement initially saw HWC as additional paperwork, but when they see how little effort is needed and how the children benefited, they were very willing to participate.
  • One of the biggest barriers is finding mental health providers in rural areas. We simply need more mental health providers in the state.
  • Maintaining fidelity to the program is essential.