Supporting Families Through a Difficult Time
When it comes to the Family Support department at Community Crossroads, creativity, looking to others in the department and agency for resources, and having the ability to problem-solve are all crucial when it comes to helping families, and they always have been. These qualities may be more important now than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the past several months, Director of Children and Family Services Sarah Snyder, and Family Support Coordinators/Service Coordinators Cathy Wahl, Aleece Pappas, Melissa Durant, Annjeanette Dow, and Jenn Graves have continued to help families through their struggles and congratulate their successes.
In some ways, the Family Support Department remains the same as they were before the pandemic. The department continues to connect families with resources (which may look different or are tougher to find because of COVID), assist families with paperwork such as Medicaid and guardianship, attend IEP meetings, partake in conversations with community agencies (ex. Center For Life Management, Vocational Rehab, Special Medical Services) to provide joint support and be there to answer any questions. Now, these conversations are had via Zoom and other virtual platforms.
In many ways, families are facing challenges they have never faced before and the department is working vigorously to meet those needs. Mental health is an issue for many families on each caseload. Whether parents have lost their jobs, are working from home and helping their child with virtual learning simultaneously, finding that their child is regressing in behavioral ways, or an individual is struggling being isolated, the pandemic is impacting the mental health of many. As a result of increasing mental health struggles, looking to other members of the department, area agency, and organizations such as CLM and Voc Rehab to solve problems has been more important than ever. The department is finding that for many, COVID has created a barrier between some individuals and their goals which is resulting in them becoming sad and frustrated.
Organizations such as CLM and Voc Rehab have played a central role in helping families during this time. Some of the ways Special Medical Services have been helping include:
- Licensed nursing assistants (LNA) and nursing services or increasing the services
- Necessary therapies such as Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT), and speech
- Access to equipment not available at home that was being used at school to work on skills
Virtual learning has been difficult for many families for a variety of reasons. For some, their learning style fits better in an in-person setting, some struggle to understand why someone’s face is on a screen, and some parents’ work schedules and child’s school schedules don’t align in a preferred way. As a result, some parents are moving their child out of public education and virtual learning in favor of homeschooling. For homeschooling, parents can create a schedule for the day that fits them best personally and can teach at a pace their child is comfortable with. In some cases, parents thought their child would be returning to school at a certain point in the year and were planning on their child to be back in school, but rising cases in our state have either changed or have the potential to change those expectations.
However, when the decision is made to homeschool rather than participate in virtual learning, all special education services from the school system are lost until the student returns to school. School systems are also not responsible for any issues in regression since they were not responsible for services. In terms of the districts themselves, some are finding that they don’t have the necessary teacher coverage and that there is a lack of paraprofessionals, something that has been an ongoing issue in our state long before the pandemic.
Also facing a shortage in our state are LNAs and nurses. While this shortage existed before COVID, the pandemic has made it difficult for families to find LNA’s and nurses. This leads to some parents making the difficult decision to stop working so they can provide care for their loved ones. Also, due to many of those with a disability having a compromised immune system, some parents may feel more uncomfortable having a new person in their home, or sending their loved one to school, day programs, and therapy.
Aleece noted some of those who struggle the most are least likely to reach out for help. Some adults with developmental disabilities have parents who are aging. Due to age and ability, some struggle with technology which further isolates them and puts a distance between them and the help they need. These challenges have forced the department to become even more creative and open with each other than ever before. An example of creativity came from Melissa, who has met families in a safe environment and allowed the parents to rest while the children play safely. Families have also gotten together in parking lots and kept a safe distance from one another while socializing.
Each member of the department agrees that self-care is crucial when it comes to being able to best support families on their caseload. Whether self-help takes form in running, biking, meditating or anything else you enjoy, having a positive mindset helps them all to better help the families on their caseload.