FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The past year has taken a toll on many people, especially children. As they head back to school, it’s important to make sure they’re in the right headspace.
The last school year rocked the routines of children. Mental health experts say heading into a new school year is the time to take note of your child’s mental well-being.
Changes in social interaction the past year and a half have hit teens and pre-teens hard. The CDC reports between April and October of 2020 emergency departments saw a more than 30% spike in visits from children 12 to 17 years old for mental health reasons.
“Increased levels of anxiety, feeling on edge, nervous keyed up. We also saw, obviously, a lot of social isolation and a lot of being trapped in our homes and not being able to connect with each other on that human level, outside of a screen,” said Dr. Courtney Washington, a clinical psychologist at Park Center.
Washington explains that parents need to make connections and have conversations with their children to better help them recognize mental health issues.
“Open dialogue and discussion is really, really important, framing those discussions in a way that allows the kids to have a space to talk about what’s happening for them, having the patience and the compassion and empathy for them for the fact they’re going through big transitions,” said Washington.
Empathy and compassion can also come in the form of noticing behavioral changes. If your teen is acting out or even sleeping more or less, it could be something more.
“If you’re seeing some kind of change in your kiddo’s behavior where they’re acting differently than they have in the past, that’s usually a sign that something is happening.”
According to a C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital national poll, 75% of parents report the past year has had a negative impact on their teen’s connections. Forty-six percent report signs of a new or worsening mental health condition.
Washington reiterates talking to your kids and monitoring their behaviors.
“Noticing those changes. Early intervention really is key with all struggles. So the sooner you notice a shift in your kiddo’s behavior and you check in with them. If they’re not willing to talk to you then you’re seeking additional professional assistance. Or, even looping in other meaningful adults.”
She said having just one meaningful adult in your child’s life makes a difference. She also suggests parents should lead by example and share their struggles, too. But she does warn you to not burden your child with your issues. She also recommends really listening to your child when they do open up to you.
“I think what happens a lot of times is we as adults, we think we have so much worldly advice to offer, which we often do. However, that often takes space from the teenagers or kids that they might need to share what’s going on for them. Cause they want to share, we just have to make sure we hold that space.”
The same C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital poll showed 1 in 3 parents strongly support schools having mental health programs. Below you can find what Allen County schools have to offer.
East Allen County Schools has programs in place for staff and students regarding mental health. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a part of daily instructions. The school district said teachers are trained on it, and in turn use it while educating. The district has two SEL coaches who support teachers throughout the year.
Fort Wayne Community Schools offer a variety of services and supports to students at all levels. The district works with Bowen Center to provide assistance to employees and student assistance services. Bowen Center will also provide in-building services, as needed. The district said this could include special programming or additional support in the wake of a tragedy. FWCS has licensed therapists work with students on the elementary level. The district said, “This is beneficial, particularly for families who would have difficulty traveling to Bowen Center for appointments, and to provide support to students in their school building where they may feel more comfortable.”
As students get older, FWCS has guidance counselors in middle and high school who are able to assist students on a limited basis and refer them to outside resources.
“We recognize student mental health is a critical part of student success, and providing these services are increasingly important to ensure students can be academically successful,” said an FWCS spokesperson.
Northwest Allen County Schools has guidance counselors who work with students individually and go into elementary classrooms to “build awareness and relationships with the kids.” The school district also has two full-time social workers and is in the works of hiring a third.
NACS has an active program called “Sources of Strength” that helps “kids build a strong network of allies to lean on when challenging times surface, big or small.”
Southwest Allen County Schools issued the following statement:
At SACS, we strive to serve the whole child. This includes meeting the needs of each student academically and beyond. Our social emotional supports in place are not new, and they are not the result of the pandemic. Yet, because of the health crisis, they may never be more important.
Back-to-school usually means a new normal for students, staff and families. The new routines, schedules and changes that occur at the start of any new school year can be overwhelming. We will continue to use a multi-tiered approach of support that includes staff and guidance counselors to support students and families who may need assistance.
Communications and relationships are key for the wellness of our students. At the start of the year, time will be dedicated to rebuild relationships, establish consistent routines and schedules, and outline the expectations for the school year. Communication is imperative to ensure students, staff and families partner and build relationships to support one another.
We recognize there are many conversations about learning loss and/or loss of instructional time as a result of the health crisis. We know the overall health and well-being of student is the foundation in which academic success is built upon.