Mercy Home Supports Families Through Teletherapy
As the world unites to fight the spread of the coronavirus, the safety and well-being of our children is our top priority. But our kids have faced steep obstacles in their lives, and continuing their therapeutic treatment is critical – especially during these stressful times. Like the rest of the world, we have adapted to these new circumstances as best we can, utilizing teletherapy to ensure our children and family receive the support they need.
To minimize the risk of infection for youth and staff during this time, Mercy Home made the difficult decision to temporarily reduce our physical, on-site community as much as possible, with some youth sheltering with friends or relatives, and others remaining on site and being cared for by a smaller group of staff. But technology is helping us remain connected despite physical distance.
Each youth who has temporarily transitioned out of the Home connects at least once a week for individual therapy with their regular therapist. These sessions take place via videoconferencing or phone and are tailored to meet the individual needs of each child. Before we started practicing teletherapy, our IT department took the proper measures to ensure that the confidentiality of our families was protected.
In just a short time, Mercy Home therapist Sally Weld has seen a positive response from the youth she has been able to worked with in this new way. “I’ve been really pleasantly surprised – both at how well we can do telehealth and how receptive the kids and parents are to it,” Weld said. “Kids who don’t want to do therapy in person – who are really reluctant or just struggle sitting in the office – they’re asking, ‘can you call me two or three times a week – not just once?’”
In addition to the challenges that brought them to our Home, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented our kids with a new set of stressors. Their lives have shifted dramatically as their routines have been interrupted, their learning methods have altered, and their living situations have changed.
“I have a few guys who this is a really, really challenging time for,” Weld said. “And it really reiterates to me that they need help and they need services.” While talk therapy may work well for some kids, others have an easier time opening up when their bodies are engaged in physical activity. Though Mercy Home therapist Katie Cunningham can’t have in-person sessions right now, she is getting creative and finding new ways to engage youth, like going for virtual walks.
“I’ve been really pleasantly surprised – both at how well we can do telehealth and how receptive the kids and parents are to it.”
“It was a beautiful day and we both decided to take a walk and have our therapy over the phone at the same time,” Cunningham said. “And it was just nice, because it was like we were taking a walk and we could both feel how great the sun felt and how nice the wind felt and notice those things.” For many of us, going for walks is a great way to get outside for fresh air during this period of social distancing. But sadly, for some of our kids, this is not an option due to community violence.
When getting outside is not an option in this era of social distancing, our therapists have recommended indoor physical activities including YouTube exercise videos, dancing, running around the backyard, and doing pushups. And since therapists are used to seeing our kids almost every day, they are finding new ways to stay connected, like watching the same TV shows or playing video games online together.
A safe place in residential
For those youth who remain on site because they had no safer temporary place to go during this crisis, videoconferencing is still allowing them to keep connected to those staff with whom they have build therapeutic relationships but who may themselves be sheltering at home to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Each youth is still able to have weekly individual therapy sessions with their regular therapist through videoconference.
One of the kids who Weld works with is still living at Mercy Home right now, and they continue to meet weekly.
“He has a very complicated situation, but knowing that Mercy Home was open and a safe place for him to be was hugely important,” Weld said. With safe social distancing practices, kids living at Mercy Home continue to enjoy some of the same activities they always have, such as playing basketball in our gym, playing in our soccer building, and playing with our facility dog Pongo.
At Mercy Home, youth often develop close bonds with their peers. One of the places bonds are formed is during group therapy sessions. Group therapy allows kids to discuss common issues they are facing, break down barriers, and find new ways to relate to each other.
During her individual therapy sessions, Cunningham found that kids were asking her if she had heard from their peers and how they were doing. And in the spirit of innovation, she decided to bring them together through a group therapy video conference.
“It went pretty well. I could see a lot of smiles on their faces – they were excited to interact with each other,” Cunningham said.
“I think that a big piece to all of this is normalizing how challenging this time is. And they can relate to one another in that because, quite frankly, many of these kids were not scheduled to transition home right now, so the challenges that they’re facing with their families are really to be expected.”
“It went pretty well. I could see a lot of smiles on their faces – they were excited to interact with each other.”
During this time of sheltering in place, people are spending a lot more time with family or those with whom they live. As part of our teletherapy treatment plan, therapists continue to hold family therapy sessions on a weekly basis. “Because of everyone being cooped up – things that are so small are becoming really big. And trying to manage moments like that is more so the focus than unpacking big family histories.”
Moments like these demonstrate how important it is that our therapists continue to be there to support families. In providing remote family therapy sessions, Cunningham has found that it’s not only the kids who need support during this crisis, but parents as well.
“Parents are trying to be really strong through all this right now and brave,” Cunningham said.
“Parents are trying to be really strong through all this right now and brave.”
“Sometimes I like to just create space where they can vent and tell me about some of their fears and worries – and I’ve noticed they feel more inclined to do that when their child is not present. I’ve called parents individually and we’ll have sessions in that capacity.”
Though this is a trying time for our families, it’s also an opportunity to practice the skills they have been working on through treatment. The goal for most kids is to equip them with the skills they need to successfully transition back home or to independent living ultimately. And while many of them return home on some weekends to practice these skills, as they do each day in school or at their workplaces, the current situation allows them to identify things they still need to work on.
“I think for me, it really has become kind of like a measuring stick. For some kids, I’m like, ‘wow, you’ve made a lot of progress, and you’re able to do it better than I thought,” Weld said.
“It’s really providing a lot of data in terms of where we are at in their treatment, and where we need to go.”
Mercy Home is using every tool at our disposal to make sure our kids and families continue to build on the progress that they have made when this crisis gripped our country and our city in the past month. While some of the specific ways we’re providing healing for those in our care might look different than they did several weeks ago, our core mission and therapeutic approach remains constant. And something kids can depend on during a time of change and uncertainty is worth its weight in gold.