Trauma team

Ok­la­homa City po­lice, school district team up to help chil­dren ex­posed to trauma

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - METRO | STATE - BY DARLA SLIPKE Staff Writer [email protected]­la­

Ok­la­homa City school of­fi­cials and po­lice have teamed up to help stu­dents who are ex­posed to trauma through a new ini­tia­tive called Han­dle with Care.

It’s a sim­ple idea, but one that they hope will have a big im­pact on the lives of lo­cal stu­dents.

When po­lice of­fi­cers en­counter a child who has ex­pe­ri­enced a trau­matic sit­u­a­tion, such as do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, a car wreck or the ar­rest of a par­ent, they send an email to the school district with the child’s name and age or school so school of­fi­cials can check on the child the next day.

To pro­tect the child’s pri­vacy, of­fi­cers don’t in­clude any de­tails about what hap­pened. The email sim­ply says “Han­dle with Care.” But those three words are all school of­fi­cials need to know.

“If we have a kiddo that has ex­pe­ri­enced trauma and we don’t know about it, that stu­dent is sit­ting in class deal­ing with a lot of feel­ings and thoughts, maybe feel­ing alone,” said Teri Bell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of stu­dent sup­port ser­vices for Ok­la­homa City Pub­lic Schools. “And if we have a staff mem­ber who just pays that ex­tra at­ten­tion, they don’t feel so alone.”

School of­fi­cials don’t ask the stu­dent about what hap­pened. They sim­ply mon­i­tor the child and try to pro­vide ex­tra care. If a stu­dent is a re­peat “Han­dle with Care” re­fer­ral, then the school might take ad­di­tional steps and get the so­cial worker in­volved or pull in the par­ents, Bell said.

The pro­gram is mod­eled af­ter one that was pi­loted in Charleston, West Vir­ginia, and it’s catch­ing on lo­cally. The Ok­la­homa City Fire Depart­ment now par­tic­i­pates. The Mid­west City Po­lice Depart­ment de­cided to adopt the pro­gram, too.

Mid­west City Po­lice Chief Bran­don Clabes said his depart­ment is work­ing with each of the four school dis­tricts that have schools in the com­mu­nity: Mid-Del, Ok­la­homa City, Choctaw Ni­coma Park and Crutcho.

Ok­la­homa City Pub­lic Schools set up a des­ig­nated email for the pro­gram that links to Bell’s ac­count. When she re­ceives a re­fer­ral, she con­tacts the prin­ci­pal, the coun­selor and pos­si­bly the so­cial worker for the child’s school.

School per­son­nel said be­ing alerted to the fact that a child has re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing trau­matic is help­ful be­cause they might not know other­wise.

“They may be in school that day and they’re ex­tra tired and we don’t know,” Bell said. “We’re busy say­ing ‘get on task, get on task,’ where it could have been that the stu­dent was up all night in some type of sit­u­a­tion.”

The Ok­la­homa City Po­lice Depart­ment pushed out train­ing for the pro­gram in Au­gust, Maj. Paco Balder­rama said. He said the depart­ment has de­cided to in­clude train­ing about trauma-in­formed re­port­ing to all new of­fi­cers dur­ing the po­lice academy start­ing in Jan­uary and to other of­fi­cers dur­ing in­ser­vice train­ing in the spring.

Of­ten chil­dren are ex­posed to trau­matic sit­u­a­tions and re­ceive no coun­sel­ing or fol­low up care, Balder­rama said. The next day, they’re ex­pected to go back to school and act like ev­ery­thing is nor­mal, he said, which can be an un­re­al­is­tic sit­u­a­tion when the child has been trau­ma­tized.

The child might fall asleep in class or act out. He or she might be dis­tracted, hun­gry or stressed be­cause of the trau­matic sit­u­a­tion.

“All these things af­fect the way that a child learns and can fol­low that child for years to come if they’re not prop­erly ad­dressed through re­sources and coun­sel­ing and ser­vices,” Balder­rama said.

Be­fore Han­dle with Care was im­ple­mented, po­lice of­fi­cers had few re­sources to pro­vide fol­low up ser­vices to chil­dren other than sit­u­a­tions in which the child was picked up by the Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices, Balder­rama said.

“We haven’t had this mech­a­nism,” he said. “We han­dle the call, we han­dle the cir­cum­stances, but many times there’s no fol­low-up to any of these chil­dren that are in­volved in trau­matic sit­u­a­tions and they’re just left to ba­si­cally deal with it on their own. That’s what we’re try­ing to change.”

Now, of­fi­cers have a mech­a­nism in place by which they know, at the very least, the child will be checked up on the next day at school.

The pro­gram can pro­vide a sense of com­fort or re­as­sur­ance to teach­ers and coun­selors, too.

Ear­lier this year, a teacher at Tricia Pow­ell’s school con­tacted her with con­cerns about a child’s well-be­ing. Pow­ell, a school coun­selor at Prairie Queen Ele­men­tary, made a DHS re­port and con­tacted po­lice. Typ­i­cally when that hap­pens, the of­fi­cer gives her a re­port num­ber and she doesn’t hear any­thing more, Pow­ell said.

But the next day, she got a Han­dle with Care email with the child’s name.

Know­ing a child has ex­pe­ri­enced trauma re­cently helps

school of­fi­cials put the right sup­ports in place, Pow­ell said.

“It height­ens our re­sponse to that child,” she said. “It lets us know that child is in a cur­rent or re­cent state of cri­sis … that they need ex­tra sup­port.”

The Han­dle with Care pro­gram is an­other step that helps school of­fi­cials be in tune with the fam­i­lies they’re work­ing with, Pow­ell said.

“Be­cause of con­fi­den­tial­ity, we don’t of­ten know,” she said. “We’ve kind of com­part­men­tal­ized,

this is the school, this is DHS, this is (Ok­la­homa City po­lice). The prob­lem is that we rely on and help each other, so I think that this helps us do our part more ef­fec­tively while still main­tain­ing con­fi­den­tial­ity that is that fam­ily’s right.”

Last year, Ok­la­homa City Pub­lic Schools started fo­cus­ing on more trauma in­formed prac­tices, Bell said.

In Septem­ber 2017, with help from com­mu­nity part­ners, the district worked with the Ok­la­homa Depart­ment of Men­tal Health and Sub­stance Abuse Ser­vices to con­duct a sur­vey of stu­dents in grades six, eight, 10 and 12

to as­sess men­tal health and sub­stance use pat­terns. The data al­lowed the district and other part­ners to de­velop a com­pre­hen­sive, dis­trictwide men­tal health ac­tion plan.

The ini­tia­tive, called Em­brace OKC, is the lat­est col­lab­o­ra­tive ini­tia­tive of the Ok­la­homa City Schools Com­pact, which is a group of com­mu­nity part­ners work­ing to­gether to sup­port im­prove­ments iden­ti­fied by the school district.

“You can’t ed­u­cate if you’ve got a stu­dent that has more ba­sic needs,” Bell said. “We’ve got to ad­dress them as a whole child, and it’s ex­cit­ing to me that the district is do­ing that.”


Ok­la­homa City school of­fi­cials and po­lice have teamed up to help stu­dents who are ex­posed to trauma through an ini­tia­tive called Han­dle with Care. Pic­tured from left are: Teri Bell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of stu­dent sup­port ser­vices for Ok­la­homa City Pub­lic Schools; Lisa West, prin­ci­pal at Prairie Queen Ele­men­tary School; Ok­la­homa City Po­lice Maj. Paco Balder­rama; Natalie John­son-Pa­pa­george, in­struc­tional lead­er­ship di­rec­tor; and Tyler Bodell, as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal at Prairie Queen Ele­men­tary School.

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