RICHMOND, Va. — It has been a long year since the pandemic upended life last March, including for parents and caregivers. 

The Richmond-based nonprofit ChildSavers aims to help parents and caregivers navigate mental health challenges amid a return to in-person learning, with solutions that include transparency and communication with children about the pandemic.

In addition to the work ChildSavers does with local schools, they also provide support for parents and caregivers. The organization is offering seminars to help caregivers plan for school reopening as well as other activities that involve interaction with others. 

The first seminar took place April 22. Four panelists shared activities they have done with their children during the pandemic, such as picnics and learning how to ride bikes. More than 60 people attended the event over Zoom and the event was live-streamed on Facebook Live. Caregivers were allowed to ask questions throughout. 

Dr. Danny TK Avula, a panelist and the director of the Richmond City and Henrico County health departments, discussed the importance of vaccinations for caregivers and parents so they can resume “normalcy.” 

Panelists also discussed interactions and time with their children since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Many of them have been in quarantine with their children since last March. 

The Rev. Marvin Gilliam of Mount Carmel Baptist Church said he has been quarantined with his three children whose ages range from two to six years old. Children have been tenacious during the pandemic and have effectively managed their frustrations, said Gilliam, a ChildSavers community board member.

“Their vulnerability with us when something is wrong has been just incredible,” Gilliam said. 

Children have struggled with loneliness and a lack of social interaction, which is needed for mental development, Gilliam said. 

“The social aspect is such a key part of the developmental process that we see in the educational system for our young people,” Gilliam said. “I definitely believe that that relational piece is going to be something that our young people, while resilient, we’ll see some impacts from that as well.” 

 In the initial months of the pandemic, 14% of parents said their children’s behavioral health worsened, according to a June 2020 survey in the journal Pediatrics. During that same time, 27% of parents reported worsening mental health for themselves. Children’s mental health-related visits to the emergency rooms increased from April 2020 to October 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

Panelists encouraged caretakers to look at the pandemic through their child’s perspective. 

“It’s helping adults look at the child’s perspective and helping adults affirm the good jobs that they’ve seen kids do, helping do some unlearning of what we may have done wrong in the transition and really hitting a reset and then looking for a new normal for each family,” said Bob Nickles, program manager for school-based mental health services at ChildSavers.

ChildSavers also provides therapy to children from pre-K-12 in the Richmond metropolitan area. The organization places school therapists within high-need schools and provides children the space to get mental health assistance, Nickles said.

“They’re right there to consult with a speech therapist, a school psychologist, the school counselor, school social worker, any people who are making discipline decisions about our children,” Nickles said. 

Richmond Public Schools asked ChildSavers five years ago to provide mental health care for its students. ChildSavers will serve 10 schools in Richmond for the upcoming fall, according to Nickles. Most of the schools are pre-K to eighth grade, but the organization also hopes to work with high school students.

“There’ve been some really heartbreaking moments in the news lately around some of our high school-aged kids,” Nickles said. “We’d love to work more specifically in a high school space.”

ChildSavers will hold the remaining seminars on May 6 and May 13 at 8 p.m. Anyone can register by visiting Eventbrite. ChildSavers will broadcast the panels on Facebook.

The CDC also offers a COVID-19 parental resources kit on its website.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.