If a child experiences a traumatic event that requires a police response, such as the arrest of a family member or a domestic violence incident, that child's school may have no idea that anything ever happened.

So if the student acts out or starts struggling in class, the school has no reason to believe it's linked to a specific adverse event.

New Jersey officials hope that will no longer be an issue come 2021.

With a directive issued Thursday by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, law enforcement in the Garden State is prompted to notify a child's school following a traumatic event so that teachers can help mitigate the negative effect instead of compounding the problem by disciplining the child.

The Handle With Care program, set to go statewide on Dec. 31, protects children's privacy: Notices do not include details of the traumatic event and teachers are directed not to discuss the event with the student.

"Handle With Care is a program that can alter the course of a young life by giving a child the critical support he or she needs to recover from a traumatic event," Grewal said. "By completing a simple form, an officer sets in motion a compassionate response that may save that child from the harmful, potentially lifelong effects of an adverse childhood experience."

Adverse childhood experiences, known among professionals as ACEs, can lead to problems such as drug use and depression if unaddressed. ACEs can have a lasting impact on a child's academic success, health and well-being.

"Through this partnership and the work around ACEs happening throughout state government, we're taking important steps to keep children's well-being in mind, and to better identify, understand, manage and mitigate the stressors that children face when dealing with trauma and adversity," said Christine Norbut Beyer, commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families.

Grewal will host a virtual symposium on Nov. 17 on Handle With Care for officers and educators. All officers will view the program by the end of the year, Grewal's office said.

This move expands the reach of the program that has been in place within certain municipalities and counties for a couple of years. Middle Township, in Cape May County, along with Newark, were the earliest to adopt the idea from West Virginia.

Middle Township Police Chief Christopher Leusner said his department delivered 116 notices to schools in the program's first year.

"This is going to have a positive impact on youth in our state, without a doubt," Leusner said.

Under the directive, each school is asked to designate a point of contact to receive Handle With Care notices and alert a child's teacher or teachers.

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

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