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Trauma-informed care for students in crisis

Schools get early warning when trauma occurs in the home, thanks to partnership with District Attorney and School Police
Posted on 10/22/2021

As San Diego continues recovering from the pandemic, many students are returning to school in need of trauma-informed care. By adding counselors and programs, schools are stepping up to support these students. However, there has always been a critical gap in that care -- one San Diego leaders have come together to close.

Until now, there has been no systematic way to inform schools and teachers if a student has experienced a traumatic incident at home that required the presence of law enforcement. Thanks to a new collaboration between the District Attorney and San Diego Unified School Police, a child’s teacher, counselor or principal will now be notified when children experience trauma outside of school grounds.

“Children who experience trauma in the home often show up to school the next day without their homework, do poorly on tests, and are withdrawn,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “This pilot program is a simple way we can alert teachers and school administrators and provide important context so they can monitor the child’s behavior and provide support if necessary.”

The new program is known as “Handle with Care,” and School Police Chief Joey Florentino calls it a game changer in providing students with trauma-informed support. Going forward, students who experience trauma at home -- the death or arrest of a parent, for example -- will have their school communities discretely notified that he or she may be in need of extra support due to something that has happened outside of school.

“We know our counselors, teachers and principals want to provide each and every student with trauma-informed care when necessary, but it has never been easy for school workers to get the information they need to support our students. The Handle with Care program has the potential to change all of that,” says Captain Florentino.

Starting with the current school year, when students experience trauma in the home, something serious and requiring the presence of law enforcement, officers from whichever responding agency will notify School Police of the trauma, using a secure web application designed by the District Attorney’s Information Technology Department and endorsed by the San Diego County Office of Education.

School Police will then take appropriate steps to inform the students’ school of attendance that the student may be experiencing trauma. School Police Officers have been specially trained by representatives of the District Attorney to provide schools with useful information to help schools respond in a supportive way.

By alerting a school and teacher that a student may have experienced a traumatic situation, it provides context as to why a child might be behaving in a particular way. Knowing something may be negatively affecting a student, schools and teachers can then offer support and resources rather than potential punishment and consequences.