With schools moving to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both educators and behavioral health providers transitioned from traditional in-person means to support students to virtual delivery of services via telehealth.
Researchers from the Center of Excellence for Children’s Behavioral Health at the Georgia Health Policy Center conducted a series of focus groups and interviews to synthesize experiences of educators from public schools in the Metro Atlanta area and behavioral health providers supporting schools and students across the state of Georgia during the pandemic.
Some common themes emerged from these interviews that may aid educators and behavioral health providers as the pandemic continues and they need to flexibly provide supports to students and their families.
Families’ Basic Needs Come First
Educators and providers emphasize the importance of ensuring a family’s basic needs are met before engaging in educational or mental health support. The pandemic is impacting the economic stability of many families, and educators and mental health providers are serving as connectors for additional community supports, such as assistance with utilities and food.
Educators and Mental Health Providers Are Juggling Personal, Professional Lives
Like many people working from home, educators and mental health providers are juggling work and family life. Many teachers and behavioral health professionals are challenged with teaching and delivering therapeutic services to their students in the midst of supporting their own children and families. They, too, have experienced loss of family members, concerns about job security, and overall uncertainty as a result of the pandemic. Adjusting expectations can help to relieve some of the stress and strain.
Virtual Connection Increases Engagement with Parents
The school setting can make it difficult to engage parents directly. In what has been described as “blessing in disguise,” educators and behavioral health providers report that virtual support in the pandemic provides an opportunity for expanded connection with parents and guardians. This includes building rapport with caregivers, identifying other needed family supports and services, and in some cases, the initiation of family counseling — services that may not have been possible with on-site visits.
Unprecedented Times Afford Educators, Behavioral Health Providers Opportunity to Innovate
Connecting with younger clients and keeping youth engaged has required substantial innovation on the part of educators and mental health providers. Educators shared creative strategies to implementing lessons such as through storytelling. Many providers reported creating “kits” and delivering them to their younger clients. These kits include a variety of objects such as stress balls, sand timers to support timed meditation, and pipe cleaners. The kits are utilized during behavioral telehealth sessions to increase time for engagement and also serve as a resource for the child beyond the appointment.