Things may oh-so-slowly be inching back toward normal, but the psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic linger on. It’s been a busy time at the Family CARES (a partnership of Children’s Home and Aid and Northwestern Settlement) clinic at Rowe Elementary School, which uses a comprehensive approach to help its young scholars cope.
“We saw a 60% increase in monthly referrals over the past year,” reports program coordinator Megan Borowski of the behavioral and emotional needs clinic, now in its fourth year at Rowe, a public K-8 school in Chicago’s West Town. “There was a lot of depression and anxiety from the pandemic. The world is also going through a lot of changes with social justice issues, and that can create concern and worry.”
Adds Diana Buitron, LCSW, “There’s been a lot of grief and loss due to COVID, and children have lost their ‘normal,’ whatever that looked like. Things have been really tough on families — emotionally, financially and health-wise.”
Family CARES primarily serves children between the ages of 2 and 14 who are enrolled in the Northwestern Settlement, the non-profit that operates Rowe. Parents with Medicaid or managed care Medicaid are also eligible — and no one is ever turned away due to a lack of insurance.
“Especially right now it’s hard to find resources,” says Buitron. “The pandemic increased the need for services, and a lack of funding to provide overall services has also been a big factor.” Adds Borowski, “We are a Title I school and 80% or more of our scholars are low income.”
Supporting the whole family
Just like the name implies, Family CARES does not address just the child, but the entire family. Therapy is offered for individuals, groups and families, and there is also unique Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, or PCIT, for families with young children ages 2-6.
Indeed, all services are available to both English- and Spanish-speakers at Family CARES at Rowe, where 70 to 80% of scholars are Latinx. The clinic partners with a host of community organizations to offer meaningful services to its families.
A silver lining of the pandemic, Borowski says, is the addition of telehealth covered by Medicaid, in which families receive counseling via video feed.
“For some it’s ideal, especially for working parents who commute and are not able to come to a session. They can do this from home, and attendance is much higher with telehealth. Even as we transition back to normal, I think telehealth will always be an option. It has opened up so many opportunities for families.”
To help facilitate remote learning, Rowe offered hotspot internet access and laptops to the many families who needed them during quarantine. It’s that kind of inclusive problem-solving that makes the school such a treasured part of the community.
“The biggest draw for Rowe as a school is the sense of family. The staff and teachers are so dedicated to our scholars, and they work so hard at communicating,” says Borowski. “During remote learning, Rowe has maintained a high attendance rate of 85 to 95%, depending on the grade level, because of our level of dedication to keeping scholars successful.”