Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event can understand the ways that it might negatively affect your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. For students who have experienced trauma, negative effects might be expressed in a variety of ways including worsened emotional health and mood, withdrawal from social interactions, and behavioral shifts. It’s not hard to see how these issues could begin to impact the school and social life of affected students and potentially lead to behavioral issues resulting in disciplinary action.
The need for better trauma-informed responses for students has led schools, law enforcement agencies, and organizations like prevention coalitions and mental health boards to enact a Handle With Care (HWC) process in their community. This system is built on communication between responding officers and schools, providing select school officials and administrators with awareness of trauma-affected students. Importantly, most HWC alerts are simple and confidential—containing only the student’s name, date of birth, which school they attend, and acknowledgment that they were at the scene of police action—omitting specific details and other private information. With such straightforward, easy-to-understand messages, HWC programs can help schools be prepared to assist students in need.
Unfortunately, there’s one major issue with most Handle With Care programs: they rely on outdated technology or manual processes. While school systems rapidly digitize and embrace 21st-century solutions, HWC programs still largely rely on paper forms and even fax machines to communicate vital information—a massive hang-up in a system that requires speed to be effective.
P3 Care Alerts from Navigate360 solves this problem with a digital process designed specifically for HWC implementation. By leveraging modern technology for the Handle With Care process, law enforcement officers can update school officials with this vital information faster and more conveniently, which could make all the difference for students affected by trauma.
The History of Handle With Care
The program that is commonly called Handle With Care began as the West Virginia Defending Childhood Initiative with the goal of preventing and mitigating children’s exposure to trauma and its negative effects. With a mission of helping traumatized children heal and thrive, HWC programs also support school-community partnerships to help students overcome the specific challenges they face.
One benefit of HWC communication is that it is simple and straightforward. Select school leaders and staff know only that the student may have experienced trauma and that they may display a range of behaviors as a result. This encourages a supportive, judgment-free environment where the adults in a student’s life can offer non-specific support, understanding, and kindness when they are needed most.
The Effects of Trauma on Students
Since the source of trauma can be widely varied and unique to each student, responses and support are as well. Compounding the problem, the same traumatic event can affect individuals differently and to different degrees. According to a 2013 study on the effects of trauma on students, a range of issues commonly experienced by those that have experienced trauma include:
Depressive symptoms can include social withdrawal, a student becoming quiet and reserved, or losing interest in activities she or he once enjoyed. Depression may also progress over time from social withdraw to complete isolation.
Increased aggression is a common symptom of those that experience trauma and may encompass many different behaviors, ranging from increased frustration with tasks to physical violence. Victims of trauma might also begin to express feelings of wanting to hurt themselves or others.
After experiencing a traumatic event, students may begin to act out or engage in delinquent behavior, even if they haven’t behaved in such a way previously. These negative behaviors can range from relatively minor issues, like disrupting class or sleeping, to serious criminal acts.
Reaching Students Before Negative Behaviors Manifest
While there is a wide range of potential responses to trauma, this small list illustrates a key point: Trauma can have very serious consequences for students, both in and out of the classroom. Not only must a student face the mental and emotional repercussions of the traumatic event itself, but they also must contend with their own emotional responses following the event. Unfortunately, a student who has experienced a traumatic event and expresses their trauma through behavior that leads to criminal acts could experience years of setbacks and problems, including potential exposure to the criminal justice system.
This ripple effect can multiply the damage done by a single traumatic event throughout a community, inadvertently increasing trauma for everyone. Thankfully, schools are in a unique position to support students affected by trauma. With faculty and staff utilizing trauma-informed responses, affected students can receive daily support and reinforcement from kind, understanding, and empathetic adults in their lives. However, without quick and efficient HWC communication, students may experience negative outcomes before school officials are even aware.
After Trauma, Time Is of the Essence
This need for timely awareness is at the heart of Handle with Care. Without rapid communication from law enforcement and trained professionals following a traumatic event, not only will traumatized students experience a range of emotional, physical, and mental issues but they may also face real-world consequences that could have been entirely avoided otherwise. When HWC protocols are followed quickly and correctly, schools are better equipped to understand vulnerable students, and students themselves have the support they need to face any ongoing challenges of their trauma.
The Four Rs—Helping Students When They Need It Most
To facilitate the best outcomes possible, Handle With Care and other programs like it utilize trauma-informed responses when engaging with students. By being mindful of the potential outcomes of trauma and adjusting the response of staff and faculty accordingly, schools can help lessen or avoid negative aspects among affected students. The key to an effective trauma-informed response is following The Four Rs:
Realize that trauma can have many lasting effects on brain and body functioning for those that have experienced it.
Recognize the signs of traumatic stress and the ways in which you can support affected students.
Respond to the needs of trauma-affected students, accounting for emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing.
Resist topics and events that could lead to further traumatization or re-traumatization, anticipating potential triggers, and being prepared for challenging situations.
To Reach Students Affected by Trauma, Communication Is Essential
As The Four Rs illustrate, supporting traumatized students through HWC programs is all about communication.
Unfortunately, law enforcement officials and police officers responsible for sending the initial Handle With Care notification face a mountain of real-world issues that can make the task more difficult. For HWC programs operating with paper-based notifications, the officer giving the notification must fill out an official form and send it to the school, either via fax or manually scanned and emailed. That translates to hours of potential work for an already busy official.
These problems are compounded by the fact that school officials must also be vigilant for notices that may be arriving on outdated technology or to a single destination such as a fax machine in the back of the building or one locked in an administrator’s office. Even with law enforcement officials and school administrators making good-faith efforts to enact HWC programs, these issues can lead to missed opportunities, allowing trauma-impacted students to slip between the cracks in the system.
Digitizing HWC Processes Is the Solution
With the most important aspect of any HWC program being fast, effective communication, the outdated technology and approach of the traditional system is in desperate need of an upgrade. That’s where P3 Care Alerts from Navigate360 can help. P3 Care Alerts digitized and modernizes the critical communication between law enforcement and schools.
Designed to be easy to use and accessible for law enforcement officials in the field, sending an alert can be done in less than one minute – potentially saving officers hours of time each week.
Advantages for Law Enforcement
P3 Care Alerts can be sent from any web-enabled device, meaning that law enforcement can more easily incorporate HWC reporting into their fieldwork without needing to return to the station or manually fill out paperwork. Alerts can be sent in a matter of seconds, directly from the scene. This increases the frequency of alerts being sent, the number of students that are positively impacted, and it saves police officers hours of time.
Benefits for Teachers & Administrators
P3 Care Alerts’ digital process isn’t just beneficial for law enforcement—it directly impacts school officials, too. With more timely communication, select school leaders and staff are aware of impacted students before trauma-related behaviors cause further issues for them or the learning environment. Digital communication also means paperless records, so no more lost memos or misplaced copies.
Digitally Connect Your Community
When students face trauma, the entire community has a responsibility to ensure that they have access to the tools and resources they need to heal and thrive. Luckily, there are methods available to aid and guide students dealing with trauma. Connecting the law enforcement officers who respond to traumatic events with school officials helps bridge a gap in community communication and protect its most vulnerable students. Handle With Care programs are an important piece of the equation. Making the most of HWC programs is what P3 Care Alerts represents, by digitally connecting law enforcement and schools to make it easier to quickly reach the students who need it most. To find out more about P3 Care Alerts, click here.