UTRGV expert says cross-agency response can change trajectory for children

  Wednesday, November 2, 2022

By Karen Villarreal

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – A UTRGV faculty member sparked a cross-agency initiative called “Handle with Care” that was recently adopted by Hidalgo County to provide support for children with trauma. 

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez held a press conference Thursday, Oct. 27, in Edinburg, to announce the initiative, designed to bridge communication between law enforcement and school districts in an effort to support children exposed to traumatic events.

“Experts are saying that children face childhood trauma more often than parents realize,” Cortez said. 

In a Handle with Care situation, when law enforcement responds to a scene and a child is present, they determine if the child was exposed to a traumatic event. If so, a “Handle with Care” message is sent to the child’s school district.

No details of the incidents are shared – only that the child was at the scene of police activity within the past 24 hours and school officials should be sensitive to the fact.

“Our objective is to provide support for children,” Cortez said.

Similar Handle with Care programs are in place in 45 cities – including Brownsville and Harlingen.



Dr. Nancy Razo, professor of practice in the UTRGV Department of Human Development and School Services, brought the initiative to the attention of Cortez’s office and to the dean of the UTRGV College of Education and P-16 Integration.

“Our role is to present the information to our community, because many entities don’t know about it. We’re here to provide support and resources so they can implement it,” Razo said.

She said it is a simple program that can change the trajectory and lives of children by allowing schools to intervene early.

“We know they’ve been exposed to trauma – and the statistics aren’t good if they’re growing up to be adults with trauma that hasn’t been resolved,” Razo said.

The stress of traumatic situations – such as being the victim of abuse, witnessing a crime, and experiencing food insecurity – can have lasting negative effects on a child’s mental and physical well-being, she said. They might face issues at school with performance and display increased high-risk behaviors, including criminal activity.

But a “Handle With Care” notification can help kids in need access help through their school, such as being referred for UTRGV’s telehealth in-school counseling or other therapy programs.

“Many times, in school districts, we don’t know what kids are going through so we can’t intervene when needed,” Razo said. “A simple notification can call for a little more compassion – for teachers to be a little more responsive to what their needs may be. If there is a need, refer them to get help.”

Cortez said he hopes all the school districts and local police agencies in Hidalgo County decide to participate.

“That is the type of cooperation that I believe is the heart of a community,” Cortez said. “Our hope is that each city adopts the spirit of this program, so all kids are covered in all schools.”

The county judge applauded UTRGV’s efforts to help provide innovative and important resources to the community.

“We thank the university. You’re an institution that’s a great partner for us,” Cortez said. “Academic people can be a tremendous resource to our community, helping us create a better environment for all of us.”


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.