Ever since the Parkland massacre, there’s been a major emphasis on mental health services in South Florida school districts, with hundreds of students receiving counseling and therapy on campus.
So now that schools are closed, those services still have to be delivered to kids.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools is using the distance learning model to provide counseling, using online conferencing platforms to reach students where they live.
“We had to make a real quick shift and say how can we provide these services, we know they’re different, but how can we make it seem almost similar to the way they they were happening in our schools and that’s what we’re trying to do, whether it’s a phone check-in or a virtual session," said Sally Alayon, director of the MDCPS Mental Health Services unit.
“It is an essential, vital function,” added mental health coordinator Doris Merein. "Because families are in need right now, we’re all in a state of stressful times, it’s a major transition from being in the school where they received face to face contact with us along with their parents.”
Vanessa, who didn’t want to use her last name, has a daughter who is in the fifth grade and has severe anxiety issues. She was receiving mental health therapy at school. Now she interacts with her counselors twice a week via computer from home.
"She’s doing great, she’s doing phenomenal," Vanessa said. “And they’re really good about it, they do activities with her, they talk with her and it’s very personalized."
Vanessa said her daughter had a severe panic attack when she saw someone wearing a full hazmat suit in the grocery store. Counselors say they are seeing the ramifications of the quarantine in some of the children.
“Issues are surfacing, some of the issues I personally have encountered that are somewhat challenging is a lack of motivation or the lack of the parents' knowledge of technology,” Merein said. “A lot of our parents, unfortunately, have been recently laid off due to COVID-19 and we’re helping them navigate the system, we’re linking them to care and resources in the community that will help them during these days."
Change can equal stress. With society essentially closed, kids and parents might need help to cope, so there’s a counselor standing by.
“We’re all in it together, it’s like unity, it’s a connectiveness, and it’s important during these difficult times,” Merein said.
As the quarantine continues, the counselors expect more mental health issues to crop up, so if your child needs a little help, call your school, and a therapist will get in touch, virtually, with you and your family.