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Helping Colorado’s Most Vulnerable Kids

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During a pandemic, trauma does not take a break. In fact, for children and families at Tennyson Center, trauma has increased exponentially.

Parents are faced with layoffs, rents are due; the economic uncertainty is often unbearable. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children face a heightened risk of neglect and abuse as coronavirus-related school closures keep them at home and away from hotline tipsters like teachers and childcare providers who are no longer carefully watching children in their care. In fact, Colorado’s Child Abuse and Neglect hotline saw a 40% drop in calls in just one week since schools closed in March. That does NOT mean that cases are decreasing—again, it means that these sometimes-invisible children, whose safety lay in the stability provided by their community of caregivers like teachers and doctors, are once again invisible in isolation.

At Tennyson Center for Children (Tennyson Center), we continue to support the most at-risk children and families during the COVID-19 crisis. We have served Colorado’s most neglected, abused, and traumatized children and their families since 1904, and we don’t plan on stopping. We are here for our children and families no matter what.

On-campus staff are providing daily therapeutic treatment to children living in our residential cottages, which are staffed 24 hours per day. Additionally, in order to provide stabilization to residential children – who are also deeply isolated from the outside world during this time – our staff have shifted to a 7-day-per-week school schedule.

Clinicians who would normally work in homes throughout Colorado communities are conducting virtual therapy sessions and have provided families who lack access to technology with laptops and WiFi hotspots. In addition to ensuring continuation of services, Tennyson has also provided families with supermarket gift cards and other resources to help them maintain access to basic resources.

Frontline supporters of children in child welfare also include many grandparents, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Over 48,000 Colorado grandparents are primary caregivers for their grandchildren. Our clinicians are finding new and innovative ways to support these elderly caregivers during this time. For example, a Tennyson clinician helped a grandmother raising her young granddaughter in an assisted living facility reset a phone and access a computer and WiFi connection. They are now connected to the clinician, to their broader family, and to their doctor.

Finally, as we all struggle with stress during this unprecedented time, our amazing clinicians offer a few thoughts of advice for parents and caregivers on coping – and teaching their children to cope – during this time:

  • Make sure to regulate activities and focus on what you can control. You can control the amount of news you consume and what you do to take care of yourself. For example, if you watch 10 minutes of the news, then spend 10 minutes taking a walk, talking to a loved one, listening to music, or doing something for others. Practice gratitude for the things you have and can do right now. 
  • Structure helps! Try to create a loose schedule to include activities like playing, making healthy meals, exercise, outside time, screen time, schoolwork, and chores. Try to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. Having a good sleep routine can be soothing and helps everyone relax.  
  • Offer children the opportunity to ask questions and share their thoughts. Let them know that there are no “wrong” ways to feel. Kids are sensitive to your anxiety and fear and it’s okay to be honest with them. Use “I statements” like, “Yes, I’m scared sometimes too about what is going on. I am focusing on what we can do right now: washing our hands and staying at home.”
  • Know that your child may be more clingy right now or show oppositional behaviors. You might see regressed behaviors (more baby talk or tantrums). This is normal. They are communicating that they need something from you, even if they don’t have the right words or understand why they are acting this way. Focus on soothing them: gentle eye contact, rocking them, offering a hug, or talking quietly together. Do your best to be present to your child’s feelings and needs. Engage in an activity together or separate activities near each other. Keep options short and brief. For example: “Do you want to play Legos with your brother right now, or do you want to color with me?” 
  • Be gentle with yourself as a parent or caregiver. Know that you must take care of yourself in order to be present for your children. It is okay to take a break, ask for help, and to make mistakes. You are doing a really good job.

Social workers and clinicians are on the COVID-19 frontlines, thankfully.

Please consider making a contribution in any amount to support Tennyson kids, families, and staff during this difficult time!

-Lauren Dartt, Director of Marketing & Communications at Tennyson Center for Children


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