The dark reality for struggling youth fighting for stability in quarantine
Calls to crisis hotlines have spiked by over 800% nationwide. Although virtual resources are accessible, youth programs for those in foster care, juvenile detention, and homeless shelters have a harder time providing resources to help them deal with the stress caused by quarantine.
“These circumstances parallel,” Bronwyn Huggins, Psychiatry Resident from SUNY Downstate, said.
“There’s not a lot of control in foster care… There’s a lot of adversity they face on a regular basis. They need to reinforce they have some sort of agency.”
In 2017, the Children’s Bureau under the US Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 437,465 kids were in foster care, a number that had been increasing in the thousands since 2012. A year later, the Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY) of America found that 80% of foster children have a significant mental health issue.
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“There’s no proper funds, unemployment issues, community youth services diminished,” Rinn Cronin-Kleinman, chapter leader at youth advocacy organization The Mockingbird Society in WA, said. The organization focuses on foster youths experiencing foster care or homelessness.
“No one is handling things the way they should be.”
Kleinman also works at Oasis Youth Center, an LGBTQ+ support center in Tacoma. She expressed concern for the LGBTQ+ community, as social distancing regulations have many trapped at home in unsafe situations.
LGBTQ+ individuals were found 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse compared with heterosexuals, according to a report by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Stress is Everywhere
“Prior to COVID-19, the US was already experiencing some of the highest levels of anxiety in the world,” Dr. Anthony Rao, a renowned child psychologist from Boston, said. Rao published The Power of Agency in March 2019, a book exploring the impacts of rising anxiety in America.
“These are challenges that really push mental issues to the wall; the idea of contamination, as well as isolation. These are twin currents of damaging conditions that only make things much worse.”
Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP) is one of the nation’s largest non-profit agencies that provide community-based alternatives to youth prison and congregate residential treatment. They’ve also faced complications in providing youths with the emotional support they need during isolation.
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Fred Fogg, a regional director for Youth Advocate Programs, said schools “never really looked at the root causes” for students who break school rules. “Lateness, absences, what kinds of things are behind that?” he said, adding, “Zero tolerance policies are one of the biggest issues with the school to prison pipeline.” #YAP #NewJersey #Nonpropfit #School #Youth #Community
“YAP program youth — who would otherwise be incarcerated or in out-of-home placement — struggle to manage these emotions during normal times,” Jennifer Drake, National Director of Behavioral Health Services with YAP, said.
“But now they aren’t able to as easily access the support they usually turn to. They are also struggling with the inability to remove themselves from stressful situations… Everyone’s triggers are more heightened, and communication and conflict resolution tools are strained.”
The agency provides its services to 29 states, including New York, where the average day sees 143 juveniles in detention facilities.
Children and adolescents of lower socioeconomic status (SES) are at higher risk for developing mental health problems, due in part to the high volume of life stressors they face, including financial crises and loss of employment according to a study released March 2019.
Unfortunately, resources are getting scarcer. Crisis Intervention walk-in services at NY’s Coalition for the Homeless have closed, as well as most offices operating under Safe Horizon, including their Counseling Center.
“A huge part of all of us surviving this experience extends to knowing and recognizing when we need help,” Huggins said. “Use the resources available, even when it feels like you don’t have any.”
Virtual Communication Could Help
YAP seems to have taken up the challenge through virtual programs and conferences. One of these programs is a group for teen girls through video chat. A delivery of a snack and session materials are sent to the girls’ homes each week.
They meet virtually to discuss the lesson. Other programs drop off a care package with toiletries, food, and items for telehealth sessions that involve specific activities, such as craft supplies.
“Staff have been exceptionally creative in the services they provide,” Drake said. “YAP’s goal is strengthening the youth’s foundation so that they can be safely home. That’s at the center of our mission. The only difference now is that we’re facilitating these kinds of communications using video and other telehealth technology, instead of in-person meetings.”
Although the world seems to have shut down, the virtual world continues to keep us connected. For organizations trying to provide resources to struggling youth, a connection is essential.
“Being in the same physical space and having full view of body language, true and uninterrupted eye contact, there’s no substitute,” Rao said.
“For checking in and information exchange, it’s a blessing. Isolation would be so much more painful without it.”