HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – Coronavirus has not only affected the physical health of people across Connecticut but for many, the virus and the stress surrounding it has also affected minds. Unfortunately, children are not immune to the effects.
News 8’s Samaia Hernandez took a look at how the Hartford school district is helping students cope.
COVID-19 caught everyone off guard last March and kept thousands of kids away from classrooms in one of Connecticut’s largest school systems. Some stayed away as long as 18 months.
“I don’t know that we’ll really know yet the full, the depth, and the breath of the impact,” said Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools.
Hartford Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez knew the trauma of a deadly pandemic would impact kids returning to in-person learning. She had no idea how prevalent cases of kids acting out or needing intervention would become.
“Earlier grades, and then at the high schools, 8th and 9th grade, we see an increase of those behaviors’ Dr. Torres-Rodriguez said.
During the 2021-22 school year at Hartford Public Schools, there have been 472 risk assessments and 71 mobile crisis interventions. Less than three months into the school year, more than 450 children have exhibited concerning behavior, with 71 cases requiring crisis interventions.
To combat all of what children have been experiencing, Hartford Public Schools is increasing opportunities for kids to have more connection and creativity, and for teachers to have more professional development about trauma.
“Enrichment opportunities, additional sports, arts, wellness programming throughout the day. After school, we’re starting a Saturday academy,” Dr. Torres-Rodriguez said. “Our staff asked for last year was additional professional learning, knowing about trauma, how does it manifest, how doesn’t it manifest.”
Some of the worst cases end up at the emergency department at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, where they’ve been seeing an uptick of suicide attempts among older children.
“How significant their impairments are when they come in. The rates of depression, the rates of anxiety, eating disorders, aggression,” said Dr. Melissa Santo, Division Chief of Pediatric Psychology.
In younger kids, Dr. Santos says, “a lot more aggression, a lot more acting out, a lot more hitting, pushing, acting out, more violent behavior.”
Dr. Santos says a busy emergency department is not an issue. It’s the bottleneck that has become the mental health industry.
“It’s not the volume so much, but it’s how long they’re having to stay before we can get them on to the next program because that next program is having a problem getting a kid into the next program because that program is filled. Our outpatient therapists in the community are filled, so it’s just become a very clogged system,” Dr. Santos said.
This year, Hartford schools added 20 social workers and 10 clinicians across schools. It expanded a partnership with area non-profits to bring referral services inside 13 schools. Dr. Santos says one of the best ways to help kids at home is by being present and listening.
“Sometimes we are very quick to just fix, but we want to just listen, listen, let them feel heard,” Dr. Santos said.
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