Frederick County is now part of Handle With Care, a state-funded program that helps alert schools when a child may have experienced a traumatic event.
Handle With Care Maryland is a program funded under Gov. Larry Hogan’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention that connects first responders and school systems to help children who have witnessed traumatic events.
The county’s Child Advocacy Center received a grant from the governor’s office to allow the program to come to Frederick County. Now, when a child witnesses a traumatic event, such as the arrest of a parent or an overdose, law enforcement or emergency medical personnel can alert the school system.
“Frederick County wants to be a leader when it comes to preventing and reducing toxic stress for children and families” said Pilar Olivo, the adverse childhood experiences liaison to the Child Advocacy Center.
First responders will now be able to fill out a form at the scene, said Tom Coe, deputy chief of the county’s emergency services, in a press conference at the county executive’s office. The form will not have details, Coe said — just say the child's name and "Handle With Care."
That form goes to the administration at the school the student attends, who alert counselors. The counselors then talk with the student’s teachers that day, said Lynn Davis, mental health coordinator for Frederick County Public Schools.
There the schools can provide support for the child depending on their needs. Children handle traumatic events differently, with some acting out while others internalize, Davis said.
The Child Advocacy Center will receive alerts for children under 4, said Vivian Laxton, communications director for the county executive.
Handle With Care has been active in Frederick since Jan. 2, and the Child Advocacy Center received three alerts in the first week, Laxton said. She did not have numbers for the school system.
One hope for Handle With Care is that the county will be able to better track how many ACEs children are experiencing in the county, Olivo said.
Handle With Care targets schools because they are one place where most children will go and an ideal location to provide further support or a safety net, Assistant Superintendent Mike Markoe said.
Support provided by the school system could involve giving a child a place to take a nap because some children will be exhausted by the trauma. In other cases, it could be getting them food, Markoe said.
When a child’s basic needs are met, they can learn better, he said.
Students also bond with teachers at schools. These relationships might be a child’s only positive relationship with an adult, Olivo said.
“They spend a lot of time with the trusted adults in their school environment, so schools, school personnel are an important part of helping children build healthy brains for the long term,” she said.
By providing a safe space for the children, to learn and to develop, Frederick County works to ensure a brighter future, Davis said.
“It can’t be done just by one group, one agency,” Davis said. “It has to be done by everybody working together. And Frederick County is a state leader in modeling that kind of collaboration.”