Many families are under a lot more stress these days due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Some solo sitters, especially grandparents or those who are immunocompromised, worry about what happens if they get sick. Other parents struggle to balance child care and work from home, or try to find someone to look after their children while they continue to leave home to work.
It has been an adjustment for families, but also for organizations trying to help them. Wisconsin’s Family Resource Centers – organizations that offer parenting classes, support groups, diaper banks, and other services aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect – are also adapting.
“When a parent is stressed, they are more likely not to deal with behavioral problems or daily stressors in the same way,” said Marilyn Huckenpoehler, parent education manager at The parental place at La Crosse. “Now, more than ever, they need a safe space where they can talk about their frustrations.”
His organization has moved much of its programming online, as well as art kits, snacks and child development information packages to the homes of some of its clients.
They also continue to run their diaper bank, albeit with social distancing restrictions in place. Now families call ahead and let The Parenting Place know what diaper size they need, staff members set it up for them, and families come by to pick it up. Huckenpoehler said they stayed fairly close to their average before the pandemic of diaper bank customers, with 92 parents coming to pick up diapers in the past eight weeks.
However, it is not only that parents are more stressed and that it undermines their patience with children. Rebecca Murray, of the State Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Council, said their children may be acting differently.
“This is the first time that they can see difficult behavior in their children because their children are not in their normal routine,” she said.
Children and the caregivers who care for them also face great uncertainty. Schools are closed until the end of the year and options for summer schools, camps and other activities that typically get young people out of the house and around others are still pending.
Erin Morey, Director of Operations at Family Resource Center of the Prevention Services Network (RSP) in Kenosha County, said her organization had received fewer referrals from families in need of their services – although she said the need was probably as high, if not more, than before the ordinance began. ” Safer at Home “from Wisconsin.
Families in Kenosha County who are excluded by Child protection services (CPS) after someone has made a report are referred to the PSN Family Resource Center, but the number of reports to the CPS have declined significantly because children do not see as many adults outside their families.
For those they serve, the PSN Family Resource Center has moved on to individual virtual check-ins and online parenting classes. They have also posted more information on social media to try to reach families in difficulty, but who do not know where to find help.
“We’ve made a ton of Facebook videos to involve families,” she said. “Reading a book or browsing some resources, where the pantries are open, things like that. “
Next week, they will also be opening a virtual cafe where parents can go and chat with other parents, both to keep in touch with other adults and to be able to talk about the frustrations and joys they have experienced. .
“It will be a huge thing, just so that I can maybe voice grievances or get advice or just have a chat with adults in the middle of the day,” she said.
The parental network, a family resource center in Milwaukee, has also moved some of its services to Zoom video conferencing. After receiving a COVID-19 impact grant from Bader Philanthropies, Inc., the center was able to purchase Chromebooks and prepaid phones that can be used as hotspots so families without internet access or devices can join their virtual parenting classes and support groups.
Parenting Network director Joyce Felker said online groups are so popular they plan to keep them going when social distancing is no longer needed. She worries, however, that after concerns about the disease subside, people might think that family stress is on the decline as well.
“I would be concerned that we wouldn’t just assume, because we’re open again and people can go out, that the impact on their income is gone,” she said.
She is also worried about the higher prevalence of domestic violence, which can have lasting effects on children who observe it or fall prey to it themselves.
Northeastern Wisconsin Family and Child Care Resources saw a drop in the number of families referred to them for services at the start of the stay-at-home order, said director Paula Breese, but those numbers are starting to stabilize. Before the pandemic, most of their referrals came from hospitals and schools. Now more and more people are discovering the organization through Facebook and social media and asking for help.
In addition to other services, the organization helps connect parents with regulated child care centers that meet their needs. Breese said about 46% of facilities in their area are closed, which isn’t a big deal now as more parents stay at home means demand for child care spaces is also dropping. . But Breese is worried about what is happening as the state begins to open up.
“We had a child care crisis before this all started and we didn’t have enough time slots for parents looking for care,” she said. “Now it’s even more imperative for us to make sure these child care programs have the resources to reopen.”
All organizations are grappling with the uncertainty of how long Wisconsin families will face pandemic restrictions and what that will mean for their economic stability and the well-being of their children.
Felker, with the Milwaukee-based Parenting Network, said there was a possible benefit.
“If there’s one good thing, maybe a glimmer of hope, that comes out of it, it’s really believing that we’re all in the same boat,” she said, “and that hand and say, “I need support, I need something” is now standardized. “
Those looking for a nearby family resource center, the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Council has an interactive map on its website, including phone numbers and location information.