New ‘Handle with Care’ program at local school district honors child murdered in New Kensington

WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Pa. — Westmoreland County District Attorney, Nicole Ziccarelli says the new “Handle with Care” program in the Arnold-New Kensington School District was inspired by Azuree Charles. The 9-year-old boy from New Kensington, was murdered in 2021 allegedly at the hands of his father and mother.

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“This community has experienced tremendous trauma with the death of Azuree Charles,” Westmoreland county district attorney, Nicole Ziccarelli tells channel 11.

Now, a new program to help kids has been created in his honor.  It starts when an officer is called to a home and a child experiences trauma.  It can be anything from a fire, to food insecurity, to domestic violence. Sometimes families don’t have diapers for toddlers or infant formula.

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“If there’s a child in that home, that’s what starts that first initial response for the trauma team to get involved,” Lori Vollman, the Program Director for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit said.

The officer is given a QR code to scan that leads to a web page.

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“They use that QR scan which goes to the district and the family center and that’s what starts checking on the child the next day they’re in school, " Vollman said.  “Making sure that safety net is there for all of our kids.”

The Superintendent of Arnold-New Kensington School District say it’s already paying off.

“We’re able to make changes throughout the day to ensure that kid feels that warm, safe and engaging atmosphere to let them know there are people who care,” Superintendent, Dr. Christopher Sefcheck said.

In the first month of the “Handle with Care” program, there were 22 notices.  The Westmoreland County District Attorney says 45 kids have been helped directly, and another 900 have been helped indirectly.

“The research proves that this can dramatically affect the outcome of that child’s life,” Ziccarelli adds.  " If they have one positive interaction with an adult, that can change their whole future.”

Ziccarelli says her office has a duty to prosecute, but also prevent it by getting to the root cause earlier.

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