The nation's opioid crisis is taking a toll on children across the country. They're left traumatized after experiencing violence, crime or abuse.
Nine year old Neko is in therapy working through the anger and trauma he's experiencing after his parents were arrested for drug crimes. With permission, we joined his weekly session at his West Virginia Elementary School. It's part of a program called 'Handle with Care' which requires law enforcement to alert school districts when they encounter a child at a crime scene.
The initiative was launched at the Mary C. Snow school in Charleston, a neighborhood riddled with violent crime and drugs . The program's creator, Andrea Darr says the notices are a signal that the child is going through a hard time and may need extra support.
Andrea Darr, Director of the West Virginia Center for Children's Justice at the West Virginia State Police Academy says, "If we have a little bit of a heads up that this child has been traumatized, we are going to be proactive rather than reactive with that kid... if they don't have their homework, you're going to give them a little extra time and maybe some one-on-one to do that. If they fall asleep, let them go to the nurses station to sleep."
West Virginia is ground zero for the opioid epidemic. It has the highest rate of drug overdoses in the nation. Patrolman, Josh McMaster, says he often writes 3 to 4 handle with care notices a night. the program has been replicated across West Virginia, several other states, and now some lawmakers are working to implement it nationwide.
Neko's therapist says after a year of therapy, the third grader is more emotionally stable both in and out of school. Neko says he feels better, too. his long road ahead is perhaps a little easier, thanks to a little compassion, and three words: Handle with Care.
West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, along with Virginia Senator Tim Kaine introduced "Handle with Care" legislation in the US Senate in April. It would authorize 10 million dollars in federal funding to allow states to begin training and create their own Handle with Care programs.