A new collaborative program tagged A-Chance is aimed at helping children in violent and crime-ridden homes succeed in their school setting and in life. Conner Eldridge, U.S. Prosecuting Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, joined law enforcement and school officers on Wednesday (Aug. 5) in Fayetteville to announce the program.
Eldridge said children too often across this region and state are exposed to horrible, unconscionable situations. He estimates that at least 60% of Arkansas school children can benefit from the A-Chance program which will be unveiled in 17 schools across six counties when the school year begins Aug. 17.
“Treating the effects of trauma in children is the only way we can truly change the cycle of violence in our communities,” Eldridge said.
Each year approximately 1 million children are confirmed as victims of abuse and neglect. Last year, 33,353 Arkansas children were referred for maltreatment assessments, according to the Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services. The Crimes Against Children Division of the state police handle more than 5,500 child abuse referrals annually.
Local longtime children’s advocate Beverly Engle said it may take a village to raise a child but an army to rescue one. Engle said every new program that helps to knit together a safety net for children is valued. She said the best of training, work to change laws and amazing programs still have to take a back seat to the child.
“We have to listen and respond,” Engle said.
‘HANDLE WITH CARE’
The A-Chance program is modeled after one Eldridge heard about from another U.S. attorney in a neighboring state. The police working a domestic violence or crime scene in a home involving school age children will contact the children’s school officials by early the next morning with a “Handle with Care Notice.” Eldridge said the notification allows teachers and administrators insight that better helps them address the needs of those children.
For instance, if police were in a home until 2 a.m. on a domestic violence call and that child has a test the following day, teachers could postpone it. Or if the child is sleepy, they could allow that child time to rest.
The end result should be that children are adequately cared for following these traumatic events. The hope is that with proper care, troubled students can rise above the cycle and not be labeled “problem children.” He said many times children who grow up in troubled homes repeat the cycle of violence as adults and that has to change. By bringing together those professionals on the frontline of these situations, Eldridge hopes more kids will get the help they need.
“Another good thing about this program is that it’s very low cost. There is no funding attached to the program at this time. That is not to say that there are not some administrative costs to be borne by law enforcement and schools. But overall it’s a matter of streamlining communication between the two parties so that the children are given a chance for success,” Eldridge said during the press conference.
A-Chance stands for “Arkansas Cultivating Healthy Attitudes and Nurturing Children to Excel.” Eldridge said it’s also in line with the U.S. Department of Justice’s larger initiative to better serve children exposed to violence and trauma.
INITIAL PARTICIPATING SCHOOLS
He said six Arkansas counties have signed on to take part in the program, but not all schools in Eldridge’s 34 county district in western Arkansas have yet signed on. Following is a list of the counties and schools participating.
Arkadelphia, Centerpoint and Gurdon schools
Alma and Van Buren schools
Fort Smith schools
El Dorado schools
Springdale, Fayetteville, Farmington. Lincoln, West Fork and Greenland schools
The program is available to any school and law enforcement agency in the western District of Arkansas. Interested parties are asked to contact Eldridge’s office to get started in the program.