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Thanks to a Strong Network of Support, No Family is Ever Alone During the Holidays

For many young people, the convergence of a global pandemic and a non-traditional holiday season marked by isolation and distancing can be the “perfect storm” for issues detrimental to their mental and physical health and well-being.

Children who may be experiencing fear, anxiety, confusion, depression and even suicidal thoughts often have difficulty expressing what they are feeling: even more so when they are distanced from their friends and social circle.

And without the trusted in-person lifeline that a school community offers, it’s up to parents and guardians within the home to look for the warning signs – persistent sadness, seclusion, listlessness, irritability, acting out – that indicate a child is suffering and in need of help.

“Parents should always be aware of any changes in a child’s behavior,” said Mike Bayer, director of school wellness, culture and safety for Pueblo School District 60. “These changes can be a clue that something is going on and needs to be looked into.”

To support the mental health and social/emotional well-being needs of families during the holidays, as well as throughout the school year, D60 boasts longstanding partnerships with Health Solutions, State of Grace Counseling and Spark the Change Colorado ProBono Mental Wellness. Hands coming together in a huddle

A number of other supportive avenues also exist, including Colorado Crisis Services, Colorado Safe2Tell, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, that can provide families with needed support and help in times of crisis.

“The important thing to remember is that no family is alone,” Mr. Bayer explained. “There are a lot of resources out there, and it’s just a matter of reaching out to make contact.

“We have people out there who are willing to work with our families at any point in time.”

A vibrant relationship between the district, Pueblo Police Department school resource officers and Health Solutions allows for a near-instant response should a student or family request assistance.

“If someone needs help, we can notify our school resource officers and they will get ahold of the Health Solutions’ crisis team,” Mr. Bayer explained. “And they will go out to the house immediately. So not only do we do the welfare check, the resources are there, at hand, to help and support at that particular moment in time.”

Kristie Dorwart, director of Health Solutions’ Family Center, said members of the Critical Incident Team are embedded with the police department after completing the training academy. Members of that team, as well as Health Solutions’ crisis team, are able to respond with officers on welfare checks.

When possible, Health Solutions’ professionals connect with students and families through virtual engagements. For emergent needs and crisis cases, clients are seen face-to-face.

Families in need of support from Health Solutions are encouraged to call 545-2746, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“A lot of what we’re seeing in the students is an increase in anxiety and depression, which results from the uncertainty related to the pandemic,” Ms. Dorwart explained. “Before, students were able to go and do their sports, and hang out with friends in and out of school. But given the social isolation, that isn’t possible.”

Another partnership, with State of Grace Counseling, provides support services for the district’s middle and elementary school students through referrals.

Although referrals have diminished significantly as a result of remote learning and a lack of face-to-face contact with children, Lenny Ruiz, State of Grace Counseling’s owner, said his team stands at the ready to respond to the needs of D60 families.

“At any time, parents, administrators, counselors, teachers and anyone who has contact with kids, either in school or online, can reach out to us if help is needed, whether it’s someone to talk to or something more significant,” Mr. Ruiz said. “If it’s a deeper issue, we offer help through outpatient services.”

With students not in the classroom, it’s become more challenging for educational leaders to determine if a child is in distress and/or in need of professional intervention.

“We really try to have regular conversations with our school teams to determine if a child needs a referral,” Mr. Ruiz said. “We also encourage teachers, who have the most contact with students online, to be aware of any issues that might require a referral.”

Families also have the option of contacting State of Grace Counseling directly, at 569-7909 or by emailing referrals@stateofgrace-pueblo.com.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to anonymously alert authorities to a potentially harmful or threatening situation is Colorado Safe2Tell.

This venue, which can be accessed online (safe2tell.org) as well as through a phone (1-877-542-7233), traditionally sees robust use during a traditional school year. But with students learning remotely during the pandemic, usage of Safe2Tell has, unfortunately, dropped dramatically.

“Information submitted through Safe2Tell actually goes to the state level first,” Mr. Bayer explained. “Then it’s transferred to local authorities, including the police department, school administrators and myself. At that point, the police department visits the home to conduct a welfare check on the student and let the family know they have immediate access to resources.”

In addition to outpatient services available at The Family Center, 1591 Taos Road, and Youth and Family Services, 1012 West Abriendo Avenue, Health Solutions has expert clinicians ready to virtually meet with youngsters and help them navigate through the emotions they are feeling, school and social change anxiety, and other hurdles related to a child’s emotional health.

More serious issues, including trauma, exposure to abuse, and thoughts of self-harm also can be addressed.

Even without a pandemic hovering over them, the holidays can be a time where stress and worry, rather than comfort and joy, are prevalent.

But when anxiety related to the pandemic is added to the mix, a crisis can easily intensify.

“Holidays are not always happy for everyone,” said Betty Nufer, of Spark the Change Colorado. “Our children see the news on television and hear adults talking about the pandemic. They have been separated from grandparents, taken out of school, parents have lost jobs and almost everyone is wearing face masks. How can they not be traumatized from these events?”

Fortunately, there are ways parents can help lessen this trauma within the confines of the home.

“Your child may be acting out, regressing, retreating in to their rooms, or displaying anxiety and/or depression,” Ms. Nufer said. “Parents need to know that all of this can be a normal reaction. But as adults, it is our responsibility to help them process and get through it.”

Ms. Nufer offers the following tips to help parents address their child’s social/emotional needs within the home:

  • Talk with them about what is going on in words they understand.
  • Keep them connected to family and as normal routine as possible.
  • Encourage outdoor activities and fresh air and sunlight.
  • Provide healthy meals and snacks.
  • Remind them they are loved, and that things will get better.

“Some children may need more support than others,” Ms. Nufer added. “Everyone is different. If you notice that your child is struggling and showing prolonged symptoms of depression or anxiety, it may be time to reach out for professional help.”

No family, Mr. Bayer said, should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed in doing so.

“I think people have to look at it like this: if you have a hurt leg, you go to the doctor to receive care and treatment,” he said. “If you are suffering with mental issues, it’s about going out there and getting the help and support you need in that area as well.

“There is no stigma in reaching out for help. Our families should feel comfortable doing it, because it’s about taking care of yourself.”

LOCAL, STATE AND NATIONAL RESOURCES AVAILABLE FOR FAMILIES

State of Grace Counseling: 569-7909; referrals@stateofgrace-pueblo.com

Health Solutions: 545-2746 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) and schoolbasedteam@health.solutions

Spark the Change Colorado ProBono Mental Wellness: 821-2982 (call or text)

911 (in the event of an emergency)

Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255.

Colorado Safe2Tell: 1-877-542-SAFE (7233)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

National Suicide Prevention Chat: suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/

National Crisis TEXT Line: Text START to 741-741

Trevor Project (chat-based crisis services for LGBTQ youth): Text START to 678-678 or call 1-866-488-7386.

Youthline (oregonyouthline.org/) and Teenline (teenline.org/) provide youth-staffed crisis services over text, email, phone and live chat.