Just this past school year alone, Middle Township police delivered 110 notices to school principals that indicated a student may still be reeling from a traumatic incident off school grounds, and deserves to be "handled with care."

With the notice, schools can then monitor the child and provide additional support if needed. In one instance, a handle-with-care child was sent to the nurse's office for a nap.

"If a child is present where a parent is arrested for domestic violence or a warrant or God forbid an overdose ... We want the school to have the information so they don't compound the trauma," said Police Chief Chris Leusner, who launched the Handle With Care program in September 2018.

Before the first bell rings, an electronic form is submitted to the school, marked with the child's name, an officer's name, and the date of the incident.

"We want the school to have the awareness ... and then they'll take a different approach with this kid in school," Leusner added.

Leusner introduced the program to the region through the support of Cape Regional Foundation and a grant from New Jersey Health Initiatives, the statewide grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Leusner, who was sworn in on June 26 as the president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, said Middle Township Police Department is the second in the state after Newark to adopt this program from West Virginia. Cape May County recently mandated the initiative for all police departments.

"My No. 1 priority is expanding police-youth engagement and building resiliency in our kids, and I am going to be talking about this during my tenure as president, trying to hopefully inspire action of other police chiefs to institute these programs in their communities," Leusner said.

Typically, Leusner said, schools and police are only in communication when a child is a arrested or involved in a fight on school grounds. Handle With Care opens the lines of communication, but does not detail the trauma to protect the privacy of the child and family.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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