In Mid-March, schools across America began to close in an effort to slow the spread of the rapidly evolving novel coronavirus. In a matter of days, nearly every student in America lost face-to-face access to the daily enrichment, socialization, mental health support, education, and meals schools provide.
But school closures don’t just impact children, they place strain on the entire family. The demand for parental support has increased, as parents step into the role of teachers and take on every role normally offered by other professionals in a school setting.
Lauren Norford, LICSW, Program Manager for Early Childhood Services, advises parents to offer predictable, comforting routines.
“Young children don’t need complex schedules, but routines bring order to their day and support them in their normal development. Play time, outside time, lunch time, rest time, reading time, bath time, bed time. Allow children to ask questions and answer with basic and reassuring answers without too much detail.”
These children may also have a hard time understanding and adjusting to big changes caused by the pandemic. A drastic change in routine can certainly be cause for confusion, but it’s not all bad.
“Their constant questions about ‘where did my school go’ may be annoying to parents,” says Norford, “Younger children may benefit from this increased time with their parents provided their parents are taking care of their own mental health and needs for support.”
Community Care Network is comprised of Rutland Mental Health Services and Rutland Community Programs. And, while both programs offer different specializations, supporting school kids right now requires action and collaboration between them. Now more than ever, supporting children at this time is directly linked to supporting parents and families.
The CCN-RMHS School-Based clinical team has seen a shift in treatment dynamics when it comes to parent and family involvement. The School-Based team embeds clinicians in Rutland area schools, offering mental health support and guidance to K-12 students in a safe, accessible environment. The team’s response to COVID-19 involves closer communication with schools to keep a finger on the pulse of the students and families they serve. The rapidly evolving health crisis requires a level of adaptability—and the School-Based team has risen to the challenge by assessing and reassessing the complex needs of kids and families at home.
“Struggling families revert back to unhealthy coping mechanisms when things get dire. The more we can continue treatments and meetings, the more normalcy we can create for families,” says Karen Grimm, LCMHC, Manager of School-Based Services.
Treatment is offered through telehealth or by phone with a noticeable shift in how telehealth sessions play out: there is increased parent involvement in a child’s treatment. Often, parents were absent from sessions because the children receive treatment during school, or the parents don’t have time. With everyone in one place, parents are weighing in during sessions, and that’s a good thing.
“Now that parents are getting involved, we have a better idea of what goes on at home, which helps us further support the child. We might have a better understanding of these families now than ever before.” Grimm says this shift has changed what school-based services look like in the time of coronavirus. “We are dealing with layers and layers of complex trauma, and now parents have the opportunity to talk about their stress in context with their kids.”
The team works harder now than ever, offering parents more time in sessions, while protecting boundaries around individual treatments with the child.
Providing clinical mental health services and support for young, school-aged children is a team effort. CCN-Rutland Mental Health Services’ Early Childhood Team serves children referred by Head Start and collaborates with other child care programs in the county, serving children from birth to age 5. Their work involves helping parents respond with their child’s needs in mind, adapting expectations, setting firm and fair limits, and providing nurturing. Work with preschoolers and parents continues using Telehealth platforms and phone calls, using crafts, games, and therapeutic play activities.
If parents are not sure how to handle these changes, or their child seems overly anxious or upset, the Early Childhood Team can provide some support. They are still admitting families with young children to services.
“A big part of our response is offering additional support to families and letting them know we are here for them, even in crisis,” says Kelley Todriff, Assistant Director at Rutland County Head Start, a program of Community Care Network in Rutland offering education and child care for income-eligible children aged 3-5. Here, students and families receive individualized support based on unique needs or circumstances. Head Start also collaborates with Rutland Mental Health Services’ Early Childhood team to offer mental health support and education for families.
Head Start teachers and staff stay connected by checking in with families at least twice a week, working with them to develop simple, in-home schedules and routines. Teachers complement this with virtual story time, often using this time to incorporate support for emotional well-being. Teachers and other staff also send letters to students, enclosing stamped and addressed envelopes so students can write back.
COVID-19 has made support for rising kindergartners very difficult. When students aren’t able to regularly interact with peers and receive social and emotional enrichment, they’re less prepared for the changes that accompany entering kindergarten. Head Start is exploring a plan to address this.
“When Head Start opens, we will offer a program of enhanced support specifically designed to prepare students for the transition into kindergarten,” says Marie Gilmond, Director of Administration for Rutland Community Programs.
The solutions for supporting children and families are far from linear. The multi-faceted nature and all-encompassing impacts of COVID-19 require quick pivots and creative thinking to address complex needs.
Community Care Network’s agile, agency-wide response is best summed up by Kelley Todriff’s enthusiasm. “I love the supports that we are able to offer families. We meet them where they are.”
We’re Here to Help:
Community Care Network is here to support you through good times and bad. Our essential services are available via telehealth and phone, and we continue to take new clients. If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, call our crisis line at 802-775-1000, and a crisis worker will assist you. For new clients interested in our services, please call the following numbers for intake:
Children’s Services: 802-775-2381
Adult Services: 802-775-4388
Substance Abuse Services: 802-747-3588
Developmental Disabilities Services: 802-775-0828
About Community Care Network:
Community Care Network provides mental health, community support, and developmental disabilities services to the greater Rutland region. Our organization gives support across the lifespan, offering programs that serve everyone from infants to the elderly. Our mission is to enhance the health and well-being of our communities, individuals, and families through responsive, innovative, and collaborative services. Learn more at rmhsccn.org.