Ogle County sheriff, school districts launch Handle With Care Program

Program aims to reduce impact of adverse childhood experiences on children exposed to trauma

Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle

OREGON — Handle with care.

With a name and those three simple words, Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle hopes to make a positive difference in the lives of children who law enforcement know recently experienced trauma.

The Handle With Care Program launched Wednesday in Ogle County, and aims to ensure that children exposed to crime, violence or abuse get appropriate interventions so they can succeed in school to the best of their ability, VanVickle wrote in a Facebook post.

“When law enforcement comes into contact with kids, it may not be the kids who are the problem,” he told Shaw Media. “If we’re at a house at 2 a.m. for the parents arguing, the kids are up. When they go to school, teachers won’t have any idea why this seventh grader can’t stay awake. Well, it’s because he was up all night because there were things going on at home.”

When county law enforcement encounters a child while responding to a call, they send a notice to the child’s school that there was an incident and the child might have academic or behavioral problems that day, VanVickle said.

“The notice includes no details about the incident and contains only the child’s name and three words: Handle with Care,” he wrote. “The school receives the notice before the start of the school day so that staff is prepared to ‘handle the child with care’ and respond in a trauma-informed way.”

Ogle County school districts were “completely open to the idea, and have really come on board and helped facilitate it,” VanVickle said.

Witnessing violence at home or in the community is one example of what are known as an adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The adverse childhood experiences study conducted by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente categorizes ACEs into three groups: abuse, neglect and household challenges.

Abuse was divided into emotional, physical and sexual abuse; neglect into emotional and physical neglect; and household challenges into mother treated violently, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce and incarcerated household member.

ACEs can have lasting emotional and physical effects and are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness and substance use problems in adolescence and adulthood, according to the CDC. They also can negatively impact education, job opportunities and earning potential.

“We want to stop the cycle,” VanVickle said. “Our hope is we can stop the cycle at an early age or help mend those issues at an early age, so not as much work has to be put in at a later age, because it becomes exponentially more difficult to fix the trauma the older the kids get.”

For now, the Handle With Care Program in Ogle County involves only the Sheriff’s Office, VanVickle said. However, they have provided other law enforcement agencies in the county with the information necessary to participate, and anticipate more will join in the near future, he said.

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner reports on Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties for Shaw Media out of the Dixon office. Previously, she worked for the Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Michigan, and the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.