Creating Connections to Support Our Regions Youth

Handle with CareGardner, MASS. – In 2019, Heywood Healthcare’s Regional Behavioral Health Collaborative led the way with the implementation of the initiative called “Handle With Care” which aims to mitigate the impact of childhood trauma. Handle With Care is a collaborative model that promotes school and community partnerships to ensure that children who are exposed to trauma in their home, school, or community receive appropriate interventions to help them achieve academically at their highest levels despite any traumatic circumstances they may have endured.

Handle with Care is a regional initiative that will enhance communication, collaboration and training with law enforcement, teachers and administrators, early childhood educators and providers, and health care providers to better respond to early childhood trauma in the North Central and North Quabbin regions. The Plymouth County DA’s office provided large-scale training on Handle with Care for our local region as the Gardner Police Department and Gardner Public Schools initiated the program in 2019. Handle with Care reinforces trauma-informed care practices for youth in our schools and as law enforcement as first responders encountering children at an event. The North Central / North Quabbin region has assisted in identifying approximately 480 children with the need for trauma informed care since 2019.

Handle With Care is activated when a law enforcement officer or first responder encounters a child during a call, the child’s name, age and three words, HANDLE WITH CARE, are forwarded to the school for passive support of that child. Trauma-informed protocol is then initiated in the classroom which supports the child(ren) struggling with trauma through observation and support; they are not aware of nor approach to discuss the incident with the child; but instead provide extra support and accommodation as needed.

The Handle with Care North Central / North Quabbin initiative has expanded from our current 6 school districts and 10 police departments to now include Heywood Healthcare Emergency Room Registration Departments in Athol and Gardner. A parent or caregiver of school age youth will be given a “Handle With Care” caregiver form upon registering their child(ren) in the emergency room, to self-refer their child(ren) to the school nurse, day care provider and/or primary care physician. Handle With Care provides the school with a simple notification when a child experiences a traumatic event in their life. Having to report to school the next day can be difficult. The self-referral from the Emergency Department is one small step towards supporting our region’s youth and resilience.

The Handle with Care collaborative consists of first responders, community-based organizations, school districts and District Attorneys of ices supporting youth in the Greater Gardner area. Partners include: Ashburnham-Westminster School District * Ashburnham Police Department * Athol Police Department * Athol-Royalston School District * Boys & Girls Club * CAPs Collaborative Schools* Clinical Support & Options *Fitchburg State University * Gardner Police Department * Gardner Public Schools * Heywood Healthcare * Mahar Regional School District * MOC Early Education * Mount Wachusett Community * Narragansett Regional School District * NorthWestern County District Attorney, David Sullivan’s Of ice * Parent Professional Advocacy League * Petersham Police Department * PhillipstoPolice Department * Royalston Police Department * Templeton Police Department * Orange Police Department * Westminster Police Department * Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early’s Office