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Kids may need extra support to go back to school this year

School starts again in a few weeks and I think it's safe to say not everyone is feeling ready for it.

In a regular Hope & Health meeting last week, several New Bedford area caregivers and mental health professionals were looking ahead to those first days back in a classroom with concern and discussing the supports that will be needed.

Many of them have been surprised by the number of children in need of mental health services this summer and the severity of the behavioral issues they've been seeing.

Much higher than normal, they said.

At Child & Family Services' Emergency Services Program, for example, the numbers of adults accessing services stayed pretty level to pre-COVID numbers this summer, according to ESP Director Pam Bolarinho, but the numbers of children increased significantly.

The increases have raised concerns about children who are already anxious getting ready to transition back to school in a time of increasing uncertainty and stress around the COVID-19 virus. They haven’t had the time to adjust that past summers have provided.

Of course, it's not just children who are anxious.

If you've been on social media recently, you've probably noticed the increasingly strident tones people are using about who is vaccinated, or not, and whether masks should be worn, or not. The amount of information, misinformation, and chatter about the virus can be overwhelming for anyone.

Underneath the accusations and justifications is a very strong feeling of fear and anxiety.

It's as if the more uncertain our lives get, the more we fixate on the details we can control - like whether we wear a mask or not. Or, the ones we like to think we can control - like whether others in our community, state or country, wear them.

But children don't often have the luxury of creating a sense of control in their lives, and they're not immune to the anxiety the adults in their lives are feeling or that they hear on the news or on social media.

So as families get ready for the transition back to school next month, one thing to keep in mind is that it’s likely going to be a bumpy ride.

It will help if you don't expect the usual routines to play out as they have in past years. And when things start to go wrong, or even look off, it might help to be just a little quicker to ask for help.

Call another parent, a family member, or a friend to talk about your concerns or stress. Or, reach out to your child's teacher or the school's services for support. Or, try one of these local resources, even if it’s just to talk about whether you or your child need help:

  • Samaritans Southcoast 24-hour Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255): You do not have to be in crisis or suicidal to call and receive confidential mental health support.

  • Emergency Services Crisis Center, Child & Family Services (508) 996-3154: Like the Samaritans, you do not have to be in crisis to call and receive support.

  • MASS 211: When you don't know the best resource to call, dial 2-1-1 for a referral.

There is help out there. Sometimes when crisis hits, we think it's only happening to us and we try to go it alone. This is not that. We may be living in unique times, but we are all experiencing them. We can get through it better together.

Please help us by sharing this blog post. You never know who might need it.


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