Morning Zen

Persisting in Providing Quality Services During the “New Normal”

August 20, 2020

The United States leads the world in confirmed cases of COVID-19. We are approaching 175,000 American deaths. Scientists and public health experts worldwide tell us that widespread, consistent, mask use is the best way to reduce community spread. However, there is a vocal minority of people who are determined not to trust this science. Our day to day life changed abruptly this spring, and it has been difficult to adjust. Many of us were hoping that we would be able to start to return to normal by now, but that’s not our current reality. Speaking for myself and, I think, most adults, many of these changes have been difficult to adjust to. Our work, family, and social lives have been disrupted significantly. I think most of us have probably had hours or days or weeks where we struggled to cope with the uncertainty, anxiety, and even fear about our current situation.

For children, especially those who have mental health needs, developmental delays/disabilities, or both, it can be even more difficult. Adults can do the research, keep up with news and facts, and understand the complexities of our current situation. These children rely primarily on the information they get from adults around them and are also trying to cope with massive changes to their routine. This has the potential to affect these children for years to come, but it’s also possible that the actions of adults and mental health professionals can make a difference now.

“In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears likely that there will be substantial increases in anxiety and depression, substance use, loneliness, and domestic violence; and with schools closed, there is a very real possibility of an epidemic of child abuse” (Galea, Merchant, & Lurie, 2020). In the face of these difficult circumstances, service providers in mental health, disability services, PT/OT, education, and more are trying to navigate their own needs and the needs of the children and families they support. This is made more difficult by the pace of change – it seems that as soon as we catch up and adjust to current circumstances, they change. It’s tempting as professionals to retreat – let families handle what they can handle, and work on the fallout later. Children are resilient, right? The services we usually provide can be difficult to adapt to virtual spaces. Our ability to see families in their homes or our offices has either disappeared or been significantly reduced. We can’t let apathy set in – we are here to serve and support these children and their families, and they deserve the best support that we can offer.

So how do we maintain the quality of the services that we provide? As a professional in the developmental disabilities field, I’ve seen a range of reactions from service providers and my colleagues. Many are jumping in, doing work they wouldn’t typically to meet people’s needs. Some are doing what they can to get by with the best intentions, overwhelmed by their own family life and children who are always home. Some maintain the status quo, do what they need to do to meet their deadlines, avoid family complaints, and bill enough hours. I think it’s important to consider our own needs during this time as well. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my career is that if I’m not taking care of myself, I cannot effectively support anyone else. I won’t preach generic self-care a la taking a walk and packing a healthy lunch – we hear that enough. In reality, it’s important to know that if we need a day off, it’s okay to take it. If we’re struggling with a difficult case or feeling overwhelmed, we need to reach out for our colleagues’ help. We need to be as honest and transparent as we can with the families we support – so that they know what our guidance and policies are and that we can be a team working together to support the child.

Many children will likely face some long-term challenges due to the lack of services and general difficulty of this time. But we have a chance to mitigate some of it. We can do our part to help families cope with anxiety and fear, be as vigilant as ever in noticing signs of abuse, and help parents feel supported and not alone so that they can do the work they need to do with their child around the clock. Providing services during a pandemic is hard. Some days run smoothly, and we almost forget that anything has changed, and on other days it seems impossible to do what we need to do and support people sufficiently. We must lean on each other, take care of ourselves, and remain committed to the work we do. We do this work for a reason, and we are needed.

Galea S, Merchant RM, Lurie N. The Mental Health Consequences of COVID-19 and Physical Distancing: The Need for Prevention and Early Intervention. JAMA Intern Med. 2020;180(6):817–818. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.1562

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About the Author

Julia Brookover

Julia Brookover is pursuing an MS in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health with a concentration in Developmental Disabilities and a certificate in Positive Behavior Supports with the University of South Florida. She works in service and support administration and coordination for individuals with developmental disabilities in Ohio. She has, in the past, worked in various case management roles for agencies serving individuals with developmental disabilities, including long-term residential sites. During her internship, Julia will work to research ways in which case management for individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health needs is changing, responding, and innovating in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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