BERKELEY SPRINGS – Being a kid isn’t all fun and games, especially when there are big problems at home.
Imagine being 8 years old and never knowing whether your parents will be brutally fighting or passed out from being drunk or high. Maybe the police come after your father spends most of the night beating up your mother while you hide under the covers crying but not getting any sleep.
The next day it’s impossible to forget how mad he looked when police took him away handcuffed, still cursing your battered, bloody mom.
Combine that with other problems like a lack of money and food, emotional instability or untreated mental illness and there’s no such thing as home, sweet home.
Because of West Virginia’s growing drug epidemic and raising child poverty rate, this scene is becoming all too familiar. That’s why police in West Virginia have stepped up to make a difference.
Police have started a new program to communicate with educators.
Police are teaming up with teachers, principals and other professionals to help minimize the damage when kids return to school after being an eye witness some type of horrific event.
Now when children witness a traumatic event, police will alert their educators to the student’ situation (without violating the individual’s confidentiality) and the need to be a little gentler. It’s part of a new statewide initiative called “Handle With Care.”
Collaboration is key. The goal of the initiative is to communicate why students may need a little TLC due to family problems or other traumatic events they’ve witnessed, often related to illegal drug abuse, said Morgan County Schools social worker Gary McDaniel.
“Very often when there is a traumatic event for the children it is due to substance abuse,” he said.
Children in this situation already have enough to worry about, agreed Morgan County Chief Deputy Wade Shambaugh, who has personally seen what children endure when their home life is toxic.
“I’ve been at homes at 2 or 3 in the morning where there’s been a knockdown, drag out domestic or we have a warrant to serve on somebody for dragging a family member out of the house,” he said.
“The only positive adult interaction some of these kids get is at school, so this means a whole lot to them.”
“It may be the difference in being able to start dealing with such adult problems.”
The idea is remarkably simple, inexpensive easy to implement.
“We got it going with almost no expense. We basically got it started with just a couple of phone calls, because the (West Virginia) State Police commander was on board and I sent an email making it mandatory for my guys to do it. And the two police chiefs (Bath and Paw Paw) also said they would do it.”
The idea began in Kanawha County and is touted by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) as part of his administration’s ongoing efforts to minimize negative impacts from the state’s drug epidemic.
At last week’s Substance Abuse Summit in Martinsburg, Tomblin called the initiative a “holistic approach that considers not only the physical setting, but also the mental health of children who’ve ultimately been removed from an unsafe environment.”
“A worst-case scenario not that long ago was removing a dead body from a house with elementary-school aged kids in the house. That kid should not have to take a test the next day when he is so upset, and the school personnel should know what’s happened,” Shambaugh said.