As we hit the one year mark since COVID-19 abruptly changed the world as we knew it, we reflect on what we’ve learned, how far we’ve come, and how much work is left to be done to help our community through this pandemic. At Italian Home for Children, the kids and families we serve, along with our dedicated staff, have handled unprecedented challenges and heartbreak with incredible resilience.
Here are some things we’ve learned along the way and how we continue to move forward.
1) We are seeing a lot of trauma, but there is even more going unreported.
As the Boston Herald reported recently, child abuse reports in Massachusetts plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic. In the article, I was quoted saying: “Usually, the signs of abuse and neglect are non-verbal, and the two major places where they’re usually detected are in school and by pediatricians. But when you’re looking at a screen, some of these things aren’t as obvious and easy to pick up.”
Compounding the problem, children have been more isolated and are not in close contact with the relatives, teachers, and other adults who would be most likely to notice these things. The impact of this isolation, especially for children with underlying trauma, is profound. It’s a challenge for kids who need to practice social skills and social learning to be isolated from their broader community, relatives, and other supportive adults, and we expect to see an increase in related issues being reported as restrictions are eased.
2) Engaging Kids remotely is a challenge, but it can work if you get creative.
When major aspects of our programming - from afterschool programs to our mental health clinic - shifted from in-person to remote overnight, it was a major challenge. Some kids struggled, while others thrived. But the key was our staff finding unique and personal ways to keep them engaged. A few examples:
- After school programs using virtual scavenger hunts to keep kids engaged in a way that’s appropriate and engaging for them.
- In one instance, we didn't know how much the child loved art until remote learning. He’s gone through multiple sketchbooks that we’ve sent him and his parents set up a gallery in their home.
- At first, one 10 year old would close the computer every time he logged on for his telehealth appointment. To keep him engaged, his therapist used the popular MineCraft computer game. They did the whole session playing the game, then gradually decreased play time and increased the time they spent talking with each session.
3) Kids are resilient.
We have been continually amazed and inspired by the resiliency of the children and students we serve. For kids with trauma, routine and structure is incredibly important and often the smallest change can derail a good day. Yet in many ways, the children we work with have adapted quite well to an unprecedented level of change and stress, compared with what might have expected.
4) Our staff are amazing.
Credit for much of this is due the dedication of the staff at the Italian Home, which has not wavered once over the last year. Whether driving meals to families, doing remote tutoring or creating fun virtual activities with kids, or Working long hours knowing the risk of exposure is high, they continue to go above and beyond to deliver services to those who really need it. From day one, everyone has been all-in.
5) The need for community support is greater than ever.
It has been no secret that the communities hardest hit by the pandemic over the last year are those who were already struggling. Resource insecurity has always been a stressor for the families we work with, and that is true now more than ever. Our staff has worked diligently to help keep these families afloat, connecting them with community services, and helping facilitate extra resources wherever possible. Access to those community resources will continue to be essential as we work our way through this pandemic.
The next year will not be easy, but considering how far we’ve come and how much we have already learned, we are optimistic for the days ahead as our work continues.