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Pandemic Pushes Kids in Crises out of View

Downward trends in emergency rooms visits are revealing a massive gap for families who need help during a child’s mental health crisis. It’s among the troubling trends that Washburn Center for Children therapists have seen among youth in the state as a result of the widespread disruption of the pandemic and community trauma.

With more than 100,000 Minnesota children coping with untreated anxiety, depression and trauma before the onset of COVID-19, children’s mental health is further declining this summer. In a June 16 Gallup poll, 30 percent of parents report their child’s mental health is suffering now, and another 14 percent say their children’s emotional wellbeing will worsen with more weeks of quarantine.

It’s currently harder to detect children’s rising mental health needs because many important safety nets are absent as a result of COVID-19. Doctors in emergency rooms, along with other primary safeguards such as coaches, teachers and school social workers, are key in the detection of children’s mental health challenges. Stay-safe measures have heightened the barriers to connect with these support systems, meaning mental health needs are more likely to go unseen and unmet.

“This is a scary and uncertain time,” said Tom Steinmetz, CEO at Washburn Center. “Many children and families are living in fear and uncertainty for their safety. Washburn Center can offer help for families struggling with anxiety, depression and trauma. And with telehealth, we have the capacity to get them help, right now.”

Here’s where to find hope and help

Washburn Center has expanded its offerings and programs to safely serve families despite the limitations caused by coronavirus. While children’s mental health therapy is historically face-to-face, this spring the staff at Washburn Center switched to teletherapy.

The shift increases access for families in more acute crisis. The nonprofit’s unique Crisis Stabilization program, which is typically an in-home service, has now creatively adapted to the realities of stay-safe measures by delivering streamlined access to teletherapy appointments.  Additionally, crisis coverage has been broadened to cover the 11 counties in the Twin Cities metro area.

Regardless of where families live in the metro area, there are services that can match their needs and location.  “The creation of community-based support systems is even more critical to giving kids and caregivers a place to turn,” Steinmetz concluded.

A grant by the Department of Human Services Behavioral Health Division helps families and providers of early childhood education in Ramsey County. The effort supports children from birth through kindergarten who have social, emotional, behavioral challenges, have been exposed to traumatic events, or are experiencing environmental stressors. Clinicians focus on strengthening the parent-child relationship while supporting children across all areas of development. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, in-home therapy is held via telehealth.

With school out of session, referrals from Washburn Center’s school-based social workers are have also been disrupted; families from those 23 schools can be referred to a clinician by calling intake at 612-871-1454. The full list of affected schools is available by clicking here.