Shepherdsville Elementary School

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Helping students experiencing trauma is the goal of a new Kentucky program called Handle with Care.

It started in 2019 following the passing of the School Safety and Resiliency Act.

Kentucky State Police oversees the program but it doesn't operate without local police and sheriff's departments participating.

This is how it works. When an officer responds to a 911 call with a child present that officer can notify the child's school through an online portal, KyOPS. 

KyOPS is a website and databased operated by the Kentucky State Police. It serves as a portal into the State of Kentucky's repository for traffic collision, crime, and citation reports completed by Kentucky law enforcement agencies.

Then, the school only receives the name of the child and to handle with care. No immediate action is taken unless a teacher sees unusual behavior.

"We ask our teachers to be very diligent on observing, not asking any questions," Sarah Smith said.

Smith is the Director of School Safety for Bullitt County Public Schools and helped get the program going in her school district.

"Our teachers understand and know what trauma does and mental health how it does affect students. And I do think that it has reduced the stigma of mental health," she said.

Bullitt County dad Tony Martin experienced it with his kids first hand.

"We have to use programs like this to educate our children. That it is okay to talk to somebody when you're struggling with something," he said.

At the beginning of this year, police were called to Martin's house during a divorce disagreement with his ex-wife. It all happened in front of his two young kids.

"My daughter jumps out of the car thinking I'm getting arrested," Martin said. "She sees three sheriffs standing around me and you know, has no idea what's going on. So she just unfortunately feared the worst."

Martin now shares custody with his ex-wife. But credits the Handle with Care program for helping his kids' mental health following the trauma

"It's almost like a healing process if you will," Martin said.

Since the program started, KSP says nearly 3,300 reports have been sent to schools across the commonwealth. KSP says 225 of the nearly 450 agencies across the state participate in the program.

But the state's largest police department, Louisville Metro Police Department, didn't start participating until this semester.

In early August, LMPD told WDRB News, "[LMPD] is not currently involved with the Handle with Care program." One week later, LMPD reversed course saying its "Victim Services Unit has reached out to KSP and is reviewing the program."

WDRB compared Jefferson, Oldham and Bullitt county school districts amount of handle with care reports.

KSP says as of the end of September, Jefferson County schools have received 30 handle with care reports, Oldham County 10 and Bullitt County 237. The higher number doesn't necessarily mean more kids are involved in trauma, it means more officers are notifying those schools.

"There are no positive 911 calls," Chief Deputy Alex Payne said.

Payne is now with Bullitt County Sheriff's Department after coming out of retirement. 

WDRB News asked him if there's any reason a department in Kentucky should not be able to participate.

"No, not in Kentucky. No, ma'am. Not at all," Payne said.

The program is also no cost to families since there's typically already a school counselor available.

"If they're not happy and healthy and safe, they're not going to learn," Lisa Overstreet, Shepardsville Elementary counselor, said.

And for kids like Martin's they can learn to look forward and how to cope.

"We have to manage the situations that we put our children in, Martin said. "And if we can't be there for them, we have to make sure somebody else is going to be and that and we have to start telling our kids it's okay to talk about your problems."

For more information about Handle with Care KSP has the details about how schools and law enforcement can get involved posted on its website.

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