Handle with Care Program
Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole W. Ziccarelli is extremely proud to announce the launch of the county's first Handle With Care program being piloted in the New Kensington-Arnold School District.
With the collaborative partnerships of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Highlands Family Center, Arnold Police Department, New Kensington Police Department, New Kensington-Arnold School District, and the generous contributions of the Richard King (RK) Mellon Foundation, the District Attorney’s Office was able to pilot this program in Westmoreland County.
“We are committed to being a trauma-assumed District Attorney’s Office,” District Attorney Nicole W. Ziccarelli said. “I think it’s important to not only prosecute crimes, but try to prevent them as well.”
The Handle With Care program supports children exposed to traumatic events through critical communication between law enforcement, the school district and the Handle With Care team.
This program promotes partnerships aimed at ensuring children, who are exposed to trauma, receive appropriate and immediate intervention to help them feel safe and succeed in life.
Ziccarelli said the inspiration to pilot the program in the New Kensington-Arnold School District was the tragic death of 9-year-old Azuree Charles.
Charles was an elementary student in New Kensington-Arnold School District and was killed in May of 2022.
The program, itself, is simple. A law enforcement officer can send a referral to the school to notify administration and the teacher that a student was exposed to a stressful, traumatic event that could impact their behavior and disrupt their day. That child should then be handled with extra care and compassion to prevent cognitive, behavioral or physical impacts.
Highlands Family Center can provide resources as a response to the situation that child is facing – whether it is food or clothing; counseling or therapy.
This is the first time this national program has been adopted in Westmoreland County and the evidence and research behind the program proves that it works.
Since piloting this program in the New Kensington-Arnold School District a few months ago, hundreds of students (900) have been indirectly impacted by this program and dozens (45) have been directly impacted – with many success stories behind the referrals.
Ziccarelli said, “We know that trauma is poison to a child’s brain. So, imagine what repeated trauma is to a child’s brain. We also know the positive interaction with one adult can change the entire trajectory of that child’s life. That’s what Handle With Care does.”