A program created locally to make sure children receive support services and care when tragedy impacts their lives has its first flagship school district.
Huntingdon Borough Police Chief Charles Streightiff and his wife Kristen announced plans for the Huntingdon Endangered At-Risk Youth Response Team (HEART) at the Huntingdon Borough Council public safety committee meeting in May.
Last month, Mount Union Area School District teachers and staff learned about the collaborative effort between local law enforcement agencies, Huntingdon County Children’s Services and schools during an in-service day presentation by Chief Streightiff, Kristen Streightiff who is also MUASD grades 6-12 curriculum director, and Huntingdon County CYS director Kelvin Abrashoff.
As a result, MUASD and Mount Union Borough Police are now the flagship for HEART which is expanding to become a countywide project.
“Mount Union is the first school district to fully roll out the program,” Chief Streightiff announced, “and with that growth, we’re updating the name to the Huntingdon County Endangered At-Risk Youth Response Team, but it will still be known as HEART.”
The initiative was first proposed to the Huntingdon Area School District towards the end of the last school year and will also be fully implemented there in the coming weeks.
“The HEART program serves as an early-warning system for children who have suffered or been exposed to a traumatic event,” Chief Streightiff explained. “A handle with care alert is generated by law enforcement or children’s services to me as the program administrator and then I forward that alert on to participating school districts.”
Only a designated representative at the school will receive the notification and they, in turn, only share the basics — that a handle with care request has been made for a student, with those who need to know, in particular teachers who have the student in class. No further details about the situation will be included in the school’s notification.
The chief emphasizes that all information and alerts are handled with confidence.
“Through the handle with care alert, our goal is to reach more children who may otherwise have fallen through the cracks and always to provide children in need of services a faster response,” he said.
The program is designed so that teachers who notice a behavioral or discipline issue involving a child with a handle with care alert can share their concerns with school staff who then can offer intervention or support services.
“We need to always remember that students walk into school buildings every day, but do we really stop to think about the outside factors children are exposed to?” Streightiff pointed out.
To emphasize that point, the chief noted that within 20 minutes of beginning the program at Mount Union, referrals began to come in for the early warning or handle with care alerts for students.
“HEART is designed as a program in which law enforcement, CYS and school personnel can work together to provide the best response to children and their families,” the chief said.
Currently, Huntingdon Area and Mount Union area school districts are participating in the initiative, along with New Day Charter School. Information on the program has also been shared with the two other public school districts and Streightiff said local Christian schools will also be invited to join HEART.
While the program is poised to reach more schools, Streightiff sa other agencies are being added to the list of those receiving the alerts.
“As we first started, the list was limited to Huntingdon Borough Police, Mount Union Borough Police and CYS,” Streightiff noted. “Then Kelvin Abrashoff, the CYS director, recommended bringing in the probation department, and we’ve also brought the Huntingdon County Sheriff’s Office on board as agencies who can submit referrals to be forwarded on to the school districts.”
Abrashoff also explained widening the circle of participating agencies.
“Probation and CYS often have shared cases between the two departments,” he said. “The probation personnel are often those going into homes to ensure parents are following probation guidelines. If there’s a violation, sometimes a parent gets arrested. So if there’s still a parent in the home that’s able to care for children while the other parent is incarcerated for a probation violation, now probation will be able to say a child has experienced a traumatic event from seeing their father or mother arrested.”
And those are things they don’t always know about at CYS because although one parent may have been arrested, the other remains at home to care for the children and CYS may not otherwise be involved.
“In some cases, the juveniles may be a shared case responsibility between the probation department and CYS, so in those situations the two agencies are better able to coordinate what’s happening with the child and consider impacts those events can have on youngsters” Abrashoff said.
When it comes to setting an example for best practices of looking out for children and making sure that all children receive needed support services and care, Streightiff and Abrashoff are at the forefront of those efforts. And their work is being recognized.
In April, Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA), the state’s leader in child abuse protection, awarded Chief Streightiff with a Blue Ribbon Champion for Safe Kids Award during a ceremony at the state Capitol. The recognition is given annually to those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to support and protect Pennsylvania’s children. It was shortly after that when he and his wife created the HEART program.
The Huntingdon County Commissioners honored Chief Streightiff with a proclamation in June, recognizing him for receiving the award.
Then he and CYS director Abrashoff had the opportunity to attend the worldwide Crimes Against Children Conference in Dallas, Texas, in August thanks to a scholarship from the state Children’s Advocacy Centers of Pennsylvania.
From Huntington Daily News, November 24, 2023