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Manatee County Introduces 'Handle With Care' For Some Students

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Courtesy Drug Free Manatee
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Manatee County is trying to turn things around for the youngest victims of the opioid epidemic - children.

Organizations within the community, such as are working with law enforcement, social service agencies and schools.

They've adopted a school-based program called "Handle With Care."  It's based on a program by the same name started by The West Virginia Center for Children's Justice.

Merab Favorite with Drug Free Manatee said children who need special care are often exposed to trauma at home. 

"Usually these kids, it's not the kids that are involved with drugs, it's the parents," Favorite said. "They're living in a situation where they're endangered because it's either drugs in the home or people dealing drugs in the home, which can lead to dangerous situations."

Once police get involved with the families of children experiencing trauma, they let schools know to "Handle With Care" because health issues or behavioral problems might result from the tough stuff the children are going through.

Drug Free Manatee Executive Director Sharon Kramer said, "If a child goes to the nurse with a tummy ache or if he or she is acting out in school or they've fallen asleep or whatever seems to be happening with the child, we're just more sensitive, we're a trauma-sensitive community and school system and we won't re-traumatize any children."

Children who fall under the "Handle With Care" banner might first be directed to counseling or other services, rather than being punished. 

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Susan Giles Wantuck is our midday news host, and a producer and reporter for WUSF Public Media who focuses her storytelling on arts, culture and history.