As we all adjust to the “new normal” in the face of COVID-19, it is essential for youth and family service providers to alter their practice methods to ensure the well-being of their clients, staff, and communities. With social distancing measures and mandates put in place, CHOP’s Violence Intervention Program (VIP) has shifted to virtual case management and therapeutic services for assault-injured youth and their families.
Recently, my colleague, Stephanie Garcia, MPH, blogged about the adjustments the VIP research team has made during this pandemic.Today, Violence Prevention Specialist (VPS) Jody Thigpen, LCSW and I will share how we’ve changed VIP’s clinical program.
Outreach & Intake Process
In the face of two public health crises, COVID-19 and community violence in Philadelphia, it was important for VIP to continue to connect with families and offer program enrollment. Prior to the pandemic, a majority of our outreach and intake efforts occurred in-person. When the “stay at home” order was issued, we needed to make adjustments to our outreach process and we also took into consideration the new stressors that our families and staff were facing.
To create a system that supported flexibility and safety, we decided to conduct our initial outreach via phone calls and to schedule virtual intakes in the same session. This new process has helped maintain program engagement. Because video enables better clinical assessments of patient safety and needs; we have also found our virtual intakes to be extremely beneficial. We do continue to offer phone intakes if that is the family’s preference.
Ongoing Engagement & Meeting Needs
Intensive case management during a pandemic has presented multiple challenges in both program engagement and meeting the needs of our families. Prior to COVID-19, frequently identified goals were providing school support by developing a safety plan or working toward school accommodations. With schools switching to a virtual platform, the need for support in this area has decreased significantly.
In the current environment, supporting concrete needs – such as coordinating transportation to essential medical appointments and connecting families to unemployment benefits and local food banks – are the most frequently identified goals.
Mental health support remains a consistent need and has at times been more easily met due to the implementation of tele-psych services at many agencies. This has greatly reduced the pre-pandemic barriers of transportation and scheduling. VIP’s peer-led psychoeducation group, Building Resilience After a Violence Event (BRAVE), has also switched to a virtual platform so that we can continue to offer it to our youth.
In order to continue to provide voice and choice to our families, we follow their lead on frequency and modality of contact. By offering various communication platforms, we strive to stay engaged and provide ongoing support.
Navigating Crises Virtually
After a violent assault, VIP youth and families often have immediate safety, emotional, physical, and financial needs. With job losses, school closures, and health concerns, COVID-19 has amplified these needs for many of our families.Typically, we would be physically present with the families to assess for safety and to navigate appropriate next steps. Due to the pandemic, we now use video platforms with screen sharing capabilities to assess for safety and to create crisis plans. In collaboration with the family, VIP leadership, and the VPS, we work together to address these situations virtually and to offer families choices to meet their immediate concerns, utilizing outside crisis intervention services when needed.
Advocacy in the Virtual World
Often our families face many challenges navigating various systems that are intended to support them but frequently add additional stress. Therefore, advocacy has always been an important part of our program. With COVID-19, the barriers our families face regularly were compounded with various systems shutting down or transitioning to remote work. Despite this, we have continued to provide updates to probation officers even when courts were closed, we joined a group of agencies led by the Education Law Center to exchange information about school districts across the state, and we supported the community with contactless food drop-offs.
We also recognize this pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color and has put the spotlight on long-standing racial inequalities and systematic racism. This has created a space for our team to take action and expand our advocacy efforts and work towards more just systems. Currently, we are examining our policies and procedures through an anti-racist lens and working toward concrete action steps. We recognize that meeting the needs of our families must include a commitment towards personal education and growth, and advocacy work on a larger level. This includes not only looking inward and examining our own policies and procedures, but also driving a call to action for larger systems to reflect on their current policies and practices.
COVID-19 caused our team to shift our processes and to think outside-of-the-box so we can continue to provide ongoing support to the families in our program. Virtual case management has been challenging; but, with a sustained emphasis on partnership with families, we are continuing to meet evolving needs.
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