More than 400 professionals from a range of disciplines came together in Charleston, West Virginia, October 16-18 to gain new knowledge and practical instruction in successful intervention strategies for combating the many and varied forms of crimes against children. The annual Handle with Care conference, sponsored by the West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice, is conducted for the sole purpose of providing training to people who work in the multi-disciplinary field of child maltreatment, according to center director Andrea Darr.
“Those who come to the conference are from governmental or non-profit agencies in the fields of law enforcement, prosecution, child protective services, social work, children’s advocacy, therapy, and medicine and tend to work directly with child victims of crime,” said Darr.
Located in West Virginia State Police headquarters, the West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice administers the federal Children’s Justice Act (CJA) grant funds for the state, which are used to develop innovative programs to improve the investigation, prosecution, and judicial handling of child abuse and neglect cases.
The annual conference is held under the name Handle with Care, because the center developed and launched the first Handle with Care program in 2013 to promote safe and supportive homes, schools, and communities that protect children and help traumatized children heal and thrive. Components of the program were developed with guidance and technical assistance from 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. The ACE Awareness Foundation has been working with Shelby County Schools and the Memphis Police Department to bring the program to Memphis.
Darr explained that Handle with Care provides the school or child care agency with a “heads up” when a child has been identified at the scene of a traumatic event. “It could be a meth lab explosion, a domestic violence situation, a shooting in the neighborhood, witnessing a malicious wounding, a drug raid at the home. Police are trained to identify children at the scene, find out where they go to school or daycare and send the school/agency a confidential email or fax that simply says, ‘Handle Johnny with care.’ That’s it. No other details.”
In addition to offering sessions on building resilience in children, ACEs and trauma-informed policy, family treatment courts, opioids, drug trends, self-care, and mandated reporting, among others, the conference planners made it a priority to start each day with a powerful keynote presentation that offered hope and inspiration:
- Jerry Moe, National Director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Children’s Program, shared findings from his book, Understanding Addiction and Recovery through a Child’s Eyes.
- Tonier Cain, a survivor of neglect, abuse, and drug addiction, led the audience through her life story of trauma and recovery, with the help of caring professionals. Her keynote, Where There’s Breath, There’s Life, chronicled 19 years of living on the streets and racking up 83 arrests and 66 criminal convictions, until effective treatment offered her a way out and up. Her story detailed the consequences of untreated trauma to individuals and society at-large, including mental health problems, addiction, homelessness, and incarceration.
- Am I the Only One Messed Up? Vicarious Trauma: The Silent Killer of Child Abuse Investigators was presented by retired Police Chief Jim Holler, who served as chief of police for the Liberty Township Police Department in Adams County, Pennsylvania, for 16 years. He discussed the vicarious traumatization and psychological impact that are common to police officers, social workers, and other crisis workers because of their frequent contact with human suffering, especially when working with children, and effective ways of dealing with it.
The 2019 Extra Mile Awards were presented to those who were identified as going the extra mile to support children who have experienced trauma. Among the winners were Captain Michelle Richter and Christal Pennic of the Nashville Police Department, who are implementing Handle with Care in collaboration with the Metro Nashville Public Schools.
The 2020 Handle with Care conference will be held October 14-16 in Charleston, West Virginia.