While life starts to get back to normal in some ways, with Phase I of Alberta’s reopening begun on May 14, kids will have to remain home for the rest of the school year and the summer, and that may mean an increase in stress and anxiety for many children.
At the start of the sixth week since schools closed across the province, Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange made the official announcement on May 6 that schools would not be re-opening until the fall.
In these unprecedented times, Barb Reaney, director of inclusive learning services for Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS), says parents may have experienced stress and anxiety coming out in different ways in their children that they haven’t seen before.
WCPS employs social workers as their in-school counsellors. Reaney is a social worker that supervises a team of 20 WCPS counsellors.
The different changes over the last couple of months may have been disruptive to the family as a whole, says Reaney.
Behaviours parents may be seeing include sadness from the isolation from their friends, teachers and school staff members.
Likewise, some students may be finding doing school from home more challenging, while others may be excited to interact with their teacher and other students online and learn in a different way.
Students and families all have different needs unique to their situations and different strengths, says Reaney.
“I think it’s just really important to know it’s O.K. to reach out for support and assistance,” she said.
“We’re in unique times.”
WCPS social workers continue to be available to students and families and Reaney encourages them to reach out.
A counsellor can provide strategies, resources, one-on-one counselling and advocate to connect to community agencies. To reach a WCPS counsellor, contact your school.
WCPS’ website also has a resource page for parents under the COVID-19 tab that includes tools and strategies on how to cope and support students’ emotional needs.
There are apps, articles on supports and information on how to communicate and stay connected as well.
In the meantime, Reaney says WCPS is working to update the webpage and is planning on a variety of ways to get information, including strategies and resources, out to parents.
The Government of Alberta has an education line for parents to help address their questions about managing at-home learning, particularly for parents of children with disabilities.
Access the help line by calling 780-422-6548 (toll-free by first dialing 310-0000) or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Young people needing support can access the Kids Help Phone 24-7 for professional counselling, information and referrals, by texting CONNECT to 686868.
Other resources on how to handle stressful situations and ways to talk to children about COVID-19 are available on alberta.ca/covid19.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) also has a website that provide tips on how to manage stress and talking to children about the coronavirus, ahs.ca/helpintoughtimes.
AHS recommends a couple of videos on their YouTube Channel, “Mental Health Moments” with Dr. Nicholas Mitchell on positive role modelling and building family resilience.
Protecting children and families
In a recent release, ALERT’s Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) unit and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection reminded parents about the need to closely monitor their children’s internet activity.
There has been an increase in cases of online child exploitation since the lockdown began, likely in part due to the increase of reliance on technology.
In March, ICE received 243 reported instances of online child exploitation in Alberta — far exceeding the unit’s two-year average of about 110.
“With children being home from school, not only are they spending more time online, but it appears that so are the predators,” said Supt. Dwayne Lakusta, ALERT CEO in the release.
“They are looking to take advantage of our most vulnerable population: our kids.”
Visit protectchildren.ca for information on keeping children safe online.
To report a child exploitation offence, contact local police or cybertip.ca.
“During this time of unprecedented stress on families, children and youth who are at risk need to know there is help available,” said Rebecca Shulz, Minister of Children’s Services, in a release.
“If you, or children you know are being neglected, abused or sexually exploited, call the Child Abuse Hotline. Assistance is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in multiple languages. We need to look out for one another, now more than ever.”
The toll-free, 24-7 number for the Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-387-KIDS (5437).
For anonymous help for family violence, call the 24-hour Family Violence Information Line at 310-1818.