Tag Archives: social work

Supporting Families’ Mental Health

By: Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley Social Services Team

Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley’s family services team provides information, education, and support that address the concerns and stressors that may accompany having a child with a developmental delay or disability. In the past eleven months, these services and support for families were more vital than ever.

As we all gathered as much information about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as we could, it still left many unanswered questions, especially for children and caregivers, on how to communicate the potential illness changes. Social Worker Yvonne D. Anderson, LCSW, CADC, CODP II, shared many short stories to introduce resources and bring clarity and comfort to young children while their everyday routines are disrupted.  Our team quickly pulled together resources on wearing masks, social stories for a number of situations, and indoor activity ideas. Many can be found here.

Mental Health Needs

We also helped parents and caregivers of children with disabilities face overwhelming demands and difficult decisions based on the pandemic, stress of remote learning and loss of usual supports. As a recent NPR story shares, “(Lindsey) is one of almost 3 million children in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with a serious emotional or behavioral health condition. When the pandemic forced schools and doctors’ offices closed last spring, it also cut children off from the trained teachers and therapists who understand their needs.”

We know there will continue to be elevated needs and all of our clinicians, parent liaisons and social workers are participating in specialized training to broaden our mental health support services and help keep children and their families emotionally strong.

Clinical Successes

June* is a 9-year-old girl who has been treated for the past four years for anxiety through monthly social work visits.  Monthly visits were adequate to meet her needs and keep her anxiety at a level that did not affect her daily activities.  However, due to continued difficulties with school, it was recommended that June obtain a Neuropsychological evaluation.  The family had just completed the evaluation when the pandemic hit and home quarantine began, turning June’s world upside-down.   (*All children’s name or other identifying information has been updated.)

In March 2020, June began receiving weekly social work services to reduce her feelings of anxiety and to cope with staying home, remote learning and separation from her grandparents. June shares a close relationship with her grandparents and was used to seeing them daily, and suddenly she was not allowed to see them at all. June went to school every day, but her school shut down when quarantine started, and she began remote learning. Remote learning intensified her difficulties at school, and she began to resist attending school. Then June started to have nightmares about her family contracting COVID and dying, resulting in difficulty sleeping.

In April 2020, June increased to social services twice a week, and her treatment focused on reducing her anxiety. The results of her Neuropsychological evaluation were received, and she was diagnosed with dyslexia and severe dyscalculia. June’s parents were assisted in finding tutors for June to help with her reading and math delays and working with her school to adjust her expectations. June attends a private school and did not have access to having an individualized education plan initiated. Her school needed to be educated on these disorders and understand how they affected June’s ability to comprehend math and reading.

June continued to work with social work services twice a week from May through December 2020, working on adjusting to her new diagnoses and how it impacted her school performance, reducing her anxiety, coping with COVID, and being separated from her extended family and friends.

With a lot of hard work, adjusting home and school expectations, developing safe ways to visit her grandparents and implementing new coping strategies, June has reduced her counseling visits back to once a week. Her Easterseals social worker has been a big part of her success. The social worker, school, tutors, and parents, all worked together to advocate for changes and help her apply coping strategies to reduce her anxiety. 

Support for Virtual Learning & Socialization

Additionally, we found ways to assist families struggling to provide socialization and educational supports during their time at home. In one situation, a five-year-old with autism struggled with virtual learning and a new visual schedule helped the family manage school Zoom calls and other activities. By pairing mask wearing with screen time, it helped him get used to wearing a mask in order to successfully return to in-person learning.

Another child, Megan, needed support with safe socialization opportunities during the pandemic. By problem solving and working with the family, Megan was able to schedule virtual play dates, outdoor socially distanced scavenger hunts with neighbors, and more.

Support for Loss, Diagnosis and Care

One of the more difficult but vitally important aspects of caring for a child or adult with disabilities, is planning for care should something happen to a caregiver. During the pandemic, as parents realized their vulnerability in potentially contracting covid-19, we helped with guidance and resources to solidify care plans. While difficult, one set of parents planned for scenarios such as isolation from their seven-year-old medically fragile son if one of them became sick. Having a plan in place, helped ease the anxiety and the unknown of a virus we were all still learning about.

Many of our families have a large network of friends and family to support one another while caring for a loved one with disabilities. The pandemic cut off many of those support systems or diminished the ability to safely gather and care for one another in different households. Then, when a beloved grandparent ended up in the hospital for one of our families, they needed coping strategies to help with the inability to see their family member and more support after his passing. We were able to create new rituals for visiting virtually, help with saying goodbye and finding meaning in this difficult loss. These are tough concepts for any child and hard to understand when these visits and goodbye is virtual.

While a loss of a family member is difficult to process for all, we understand the loss of a job can also bring similar feelings of grief and anxiety to a family. As the primary wage earner in his family, when Josh was fired from his job, he felt lost and overwhelmed on how to help his family’s many needs. With the help of the social work team at Easterseals, he was connected with various resources from rent assistance, food pantries and free internet service to enable his children to attend school virtually.

One resource that has been helpful for families is Internet Essentials from Comcast, a low-cost, high-speed internet at home. During the stay-at-home order, a home Internet connection was more essential than ever for families. Comcast provides the Internet service and computers along with free training for the family. Families can get approved if they qualify for programs like the National School Lunch Program, housing assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI and others. Learn more at: https://www.internetessentials.com/apply.

More than ever, we are reminded no one is truly alone at Easterseals. We fostered connections between families and found virtual opportunities to connect. We help reduce the many difficult child care decisions in a pandemic and find solutions that fit each family’s unique needs. Visit eastersealsdfvr.org or stay tuned to our Facebook page for more resources, parenting webinars and support in transitioning children back into school.

Short Stories to Explain the Coronavirus to Children

By: Yvonne D. Anderson, LCSW, CADC, CODP II, Bilingual Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The current pandemic of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a difficult time for everyone and leaves a lot of unanswered questions, especially for children. The following short stories are great resources to bring some clarity and comfort to young children while their normal routines are disrupted. The stories below vary in length and detail ranging from very short to slightly more detailed. I hope you find a story or two that will be helpful for your specific child’s needs!

Caroline Conquers her Corona Fears

By: Kellie Camelford, Krystal Vaughn, & Erin Dugan

This short story answers some of the many questions young children may be having about Covid-19 and why their normal routines are so different. A simple breakdown of social distancing and safety procedures are talked about to help young children understand why certain actions are in place. Overall the story is informative, positive, easy to read, and is a great resource to calm uncertainty and confusion for children. When printed out, the book doubles as a coloring book and includes a page for parent’s and children to write out a simple schedule.

Story Link: https://alliedhealth.lsuhsc.edu/clinics/docs/CarolineConquersherCoronoaFears31820.pdf

Coronavirus: A book for children

By: Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson & Nia Roberts

What is the coronavirus, and why is everyone talking about it?

Engagingly illustrated by Axel Scheffler, this approachable and timely book helps answer these questions and many more, providing children aged 5-10 and their parents with clear and accessible explanations about COVID-19 and its effects – both from a health perspective and the impact it has on a family’s day-to-day life.

With input from expert consultant Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, as well as advice from teachers and child psychologists, this is a practical and informative resource to help explain the changes we are currently all experiencing.

Story Link: https://nosycrow.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Coronavirus-A-Book-for-Children.pdf

Dave the Dog is Worried About Coronavirus

By: Nurse Dotty

A book for children about coronavirus that aims to give information without fear.

With everything that is going on at the moment; big changes to children’s routines and lots of stories on the news it can be a really scary time for children.

This book opens up the conversation about coronavirus and some of the things they might be hearing about it and provide truthful information in a reassuring and child friendly manner.

Story Link: https://nursedottybooks.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/dave-the-dog-coronavirus-1-1.pdf

Hello! My name is Corona Virus

By: Manuela Molina

Summary from the author: I have created this short book to support and reassure our children, under the age of 7, regarding COVID-19. This book is an invitation for families to discuss the full range of emotions arising from the current situation. It is important to point out that this resource does not seek to be a source of scientific information, but rather a tool based on fantasy. My recommendation is to print this material so children can draw on it. Remember that emotions are processed through repetitive play and stories read multiple times. Share COVIBOOK and help ease kiddo’s anxiety all over the world. 

Story Link: https://660919d3-b85b-43c3-a3ad-3de6a9d37099.filesusr.com/ugd/64c685_0a595408de2e4bfcbf1539dcf6ba4b89.pdf

I’d rather go out!

By: Deborah Woods

This short illustrated story highlights the use of imagination as a means of dealing with stressful times.

Story Link: https://www.magneticmoms.com/userfiles/481350/file/I%20would%20rather%20go%20out%20story%20(2).pdf

My Hero is You

This book was a project developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (IASC MHPSS RG). The project was supported by global, regional and country based experts from Member Agencies of the IASC MHPSS RG, in addition to parents, caregivers, teach-ers and children in 104 countries. A global survey was distributed in Arabic, English, Italian, French and Spanish to assess children’s mental health and psychosocial needs during the COVID-19 outbreak. A framework of topics to be addressed through the story was developed using the survey results. The book was shared through storytelling to children in several countries affected by COVID-19. Feedback from children, parents and caregivers was then used to review and update the story.

Over 1,700 children, parents, caregivers and teachers from around the world took the time to share how they were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. A big thank you to these children, their parents, caregivers and teachers for completing the surveys and influencing this story. This is a story developed for and by children around the world.

Story Link: https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/system/files/2020-04/My%20Hero%20is%20You%2C%20Storybook%20for%20Children%20on%20COVID-19.pdf

Also, please don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone in our Social Services department if you and/ or your family need support, resources, etc. We are happy to help. Our staff completes comprehensive assessments to pinpoint what a child and family need to be able to succeed. Working with the entire family, our staff can identify each child’s unique strengths and challenges and then tailor a treatment plan to meet those needs.

Our Social Work and Counseling services can help children and their families learn to grow together. Contact us at socialservices@eastersealsdfvr.org or 630.620.4433.

How to Talk With Your Child About Their Disability

By: Susan Diver, MSW, LSW

I have been working with families and children with disabilities for more years than I care to admit.  It is a great job that I love very much.  The best days are when you feel like you have made just the smallest difference in the life of a child, a sibling or a parent.  I talk to parents every day about a large variety of topics dealing with their children; potty training, behavior, siblings, school, anxiety, bullying, respite, the list goes on and on.  If I was to address every topic that caused a family to be stressed, this blog would turn into a very long research project.  For today, I am going to talk about a topic that parent of children with a disability often ask me, “how do I talk to my child about their disability?”

You know your child the best; you understand their many moods and your strong personality will get you through a difficult but necessary conversation.  So put on your gym shoes and jump right in and get started.

Here are a few suggestions to remember when you have that conversation with your child about their disability:

  • Think about your child’s cognitive level, start there.
  • Be comfortable in what you are saying, rehearse, practice, talk it thru several times before talking to your child.
  • Be honest!  My Grandmother told me, if you always tell the truth, you’ll never have to remember the story you told and tell it again, stick with the truth, it’s safe, easy and there is nothing to remember. if you always tell the truth, you’ll
  • Be Consistent…….once you have decided on what to say, how to say it, always use the same story, wordage to talk to your child.
  • Be strong!  You cannot be sad, cry or talk about how bad you feel.  You are simply telling your child what is their disability.  The stronger you are, the stronger they are!  The more positive you are about who your child is, the more positive they will see themselves.
  • Check your guilt at the door!  You cannot use this as a time to relieve your guilt about your child’s disability, this is a time that it’s not about you, it is about your child!
  • Pick teachable moments; when your child brings up the topic, when a question is ask, when he’s in the back seat of the car, when something has happened at school or a party.  But make it when your child is calm, not upset or crying.  This is not a good time, when your child is upset, just like you; they won’t hear you or what you are saying.
  • Follow your child’s lead-Long before they ask you about being different, they will know they are different!  Use questions to see what they know, what they have overheard, what they understand.
  • Try to talk when your child is alone.  You will know their cognitive level, what they understand, how best to talk to them, a sibling or other family member may have a higher or lower level of understanding and they will ask too many questions that will interfere with your talk.
  • Be ready…the time will come that your child will ask, “why am I different,”  “why can’t I run like Billy?”  It’s coming, so the sooner you are ready, the better prepared you will be!

Siblings will want to know too! Use the same skills we’ve just talked about, use the same “story” you have used with your child.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.