According to a survey conducted by the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, 52% of California behavioral health providers reported they were serving fewer families during the first month of the shelter-in-plate mandate caused by the new coronavirus.
Some families are hesitant to go to an office or allow staff to provide in-home services, and rightly so. Others have been canceling appointments because they need to take care of multiple children at home while schools remain closed.
The overarching problem, however, is that these families, who were already vulnerable prior to the onset of this health crisis, now have an even greater need for the essential services they may or may not be currently receiving.
In order to better address the changing landscape of behavioral health service delivery during these uncertain times, Uplift Family Services pivoted by moving to full agency implementation of telehealth within one week of California’s unprecedented shelter-in-place mandate. This move has allowed us to continue providing essential services to children, and our service providers have been quite nimble in implementing these modified services. However, it has also brought about new challenges:
- How do you keep a 5-year-old’s attention on the phone?
- How do you engage a parent who is trying to talk with you while supervising her kids?
- What about the teenager who barely spoke when you were in person and is struggling to adjust to alternate means of care?
Building on the successful experiences of shared learning within departmental group supervisions and staff meetings, our Los Angeles Region formed a regional telehealth group. The goal was simple—establish a group to provide support during a time of significant change.
During these weekly meetings, all service providers and supervisors are invited to come together and help troubleshoot problems they’ve encountered, seek support, and share tips on how to engage children and families via telehealth. Collectively, their solutions have been truly brilliant and inspirational.
For example, when working with a child who may be difficult to engage or is easily distracted, one recommendation was to give them the option of scheduling multiple meetings per week for shorter sessions. During these shorter sessions, they can:
- Practice mindfulness with a scavenger hunt, creative journaling prompts, or art projects;
- Read interactive books (here and here);
- Play games such as Simon Says, Red Light, Green Light, or I Spy;
- Try doing some yoga together; or
- Create a PowerPoint presentation to structure sessions with the use of visual aids, directives, and prompts that can be tweaked and used with multiple families.
In the weeks since these meetings began taking place, teams have reported that, besides normalizing challenges and improving morale, service providers have come quite far in terms of being able to better address the needs of their families creatively and effectively.
And in regards to what the future of telehealth holds, we are in the midst of conducting a survey to determine effectiveness, and will be sharing some insights on the blog at a later date. However, we believe the sky’s the limit!