PHILADELPHIA — Recognizing the impact of trauma on student academic achievement, the School District of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) are partnering to provide an extra layer of support for students following a traumatic event outside of school. Thanks to a $1 million grant issued by the Bureau of Justice Assistance through the Office of Justice Programs, the new pilot will develop and implement comprehensive training for 300 law enforcement and 100 school personnel to increase knowledge and awareness of student exposure to trauma and violence.

“While we cannot control what happens when students are not in our schools, we can make sure that students know that when they come to our schools, we will support them no matter how they show up or with whatever they’re experiencing,” said Monique Braxton, Spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia. “Trauma can have a significant impact on students’ ability to learn and build positive relationships, so we are eager for this partnership to bring enhanced collaboration, trauma-informed engagement and heightened staff sensitivity.”

Under the new program, if a law enforcement officer encounters a child during an incident of violence or trauma, PPD will alert the District to handle that child with care before the next school day begins. No other details about the incident will be shared. Through the trauma-focused training, staff will have extra resources available at the school, as well as a better understanding of associated student behaviors – including missed assignments, acting out or change in demeanor.

“I’m proud to see this program come to fruition after our initial efforts to secure the grant funding during my time with the school district,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Kevin J. Bethel. “Police officers are often times the first point of contact for many of these kids who are experiencing trauma, and The Philadelphia Police Department is fully committed to working alongside the School District to ensure the safety and well-being of our students. This trauma-informed training will equip officers with the tools they need to identify students who may have experienced trauma and connect them with the valuable support services they need within the school environment.”

This program will be a new partnership between the District and PPD and follows a national model. The pilot will support 15 schools located within the 22nd Philadelphia Police District, which was selected because it is among the highest in crime rates and poverty level within the City of Philadelphia.

Officers within the 22nd District and all key school staff members receive training on evidence-based practices surrounding trauma to improve knowledge and awareness of student exposure to trauma and violence. The Handle with Care approach will train law enforcement to identify, document and report children who are at a scene, how to respond on-scene to help minimize the impact of trauma.

“Handle With Care is an innovative approach that closes a gap in the continuity of care for a group of our most important and vulnerable community members, our young people,” said Craig Johnson, Interim Chief of School Safety for the District. “Ensuring school staff know to pay closer attention to a student in the hours after a potentially traumatic experience and being prepared with resources at the ready to provide effective levels of support is a win for all.”

The goal of the program is to mitigate the negative effects associated with trauma exposure among public school students. Through this trauma-informed training, the school will be aware of the potential trauma and be able to understand how to respond to the student’s behavior throughout the day and provide appropriate support and interventions.

“Here at the District, we are committed to caring for the mental health and well-being of our students and communities,” said Jayme Banks, Psy.D., Deputy Chief, Prevention and Intervention, School District of Philadelphia. “We understand the importance of advancing healthy interpersonal connections and improving institutional culture, which fosters healthy outcomes for our youth. We are excited to bring the “Handle With Care” program to Philadelphia, to help give school-based staff the tools to recognize symptoms and provide trauma-sensitive support so that students who experience trauma at home or in their community are better able to succeed in school.”

This new program does not replace the District’s standard district-wide Crisis Response Protocol; however it expands the District’s ability to identify and provide support for students. When students and families are victims of tragic and sometimes fatal incidents, the Office of Prevention and Intervention assists with the assessment, response, and recovery process using a trauma-informed approach. Prevention & Intervention Liaisons support school leadership, staff, counselors, students and families in the aftermath of the incident. They also assist with connecting schools and individuals to resources and determining what additional support or training may be beneficial in the future.

Richard R. Wright School, Robert Morris School, Paul L. Dunbar School, James G. Blaine School, William Dick School, Dr. Ethel Allen School, Tanner G. Duckrey School, Edward Gideon School, William D. Kelley School, General George G. Meade School, High School of Engineering and Science, Philadelphia Military Academy, Vaux High School: A Big Picture, Murrell Dobbins Career & Technical High School and Strawberry Mansion High School are the participating schools for the pilot.

For more information on the Handle with Care Program, please visit here.