Family support professionals face many obstacles and changes in their careers. However, what happens when family support professionals face a global health crisis that drastically changes their life and their careers? COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) recently changed the lives of everyone, including family support professionals and the families they serve. Now, more than ever, family workers must overcome new obstacles and make changes to their lives. Some of the changes include washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask and gloves, sheltering in place, teaching your children at home and serving families virtually. This article presents helpful tips for staff as they adapt to change and embrace new norms during this pandemic.
Self-care is paramount for family support professionals during a global health crisis. In the event of a crisis or sudden change, it is important to slow down and take a closer look at the new reality. As one slows down and reflects upon the new reality, understand that many things are out of your control. Rather than frantically trying to do all things, be patient and accept what can and cannot be accomplished. Realize this is a time of uncertainty and there are many unknowns. Solutions and results may take a long time.
People experience a wide range of emotions during a crisis. Be honest with yourself about your emotions regarding the crisis and how it affects your life. Share your feelings with a friend or family member. Recognize that it is normal to have anxiety and to worry about future outcomes, but try different ways to cope with your feelings. For example, designate a specific time of the day—about 15 minutes or less to worry. Write down your thoughts and feelings. This helps to externalize your emotions and not suppress them.1
Take a break from social media and from watching and listening to news about the global health crisis. Too much information can be stressful and depressing. Instead, try other activities, such as reading a good book or playing a game. Start a new hobby or revisit an old hobby. Taking deep breaths, meditating, eating healthy and exercising regularly are more ways of self-care during the health crisis.1 For example, the director of the Pennsylvania Parents as Teachers State Office is exercising during the quarantine, which does not come naturally to her. When you establish and maintain self-care strategies before serving and supporting families, this helps to prevent compassion fatigue and burnout.2
Social connections are vital. Connect with others. When you connect with others experiencing the same obstacles, change becomes a little easier to accept. Use your resources and contact your concrete supports in times of need. This may also be a time to find additional concrete supports, as you face an unprecedented pandemic. Research reveals that coping with stress and connecting with others will make you, your loved ones, the families you serve and your community stronger.1
Most workers are sheltering in place and working from home due to the social distancing guidelines. If you work from home, establish a consistent work routine. Get up and get dressed just as if you would if you were working outside of the home. Find a designated area to work, a place away from distractions, where you can focus. Get outside and get some fresh air. Plan consistent times to manage all of your responsibilities, yet be flexible and ready for mishaps and minor interruptions. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20-second break from looking at a screen every 20 minutes and focus on an object 20-feet away. This helps reduce eyestrain.3
Working at home may mean spending a lot more time with family members or housemates that can be stressful at times. Communicate with family members at home about your new work schedule and how this affects you and them.4 Take healthy breaks from each other, resolve conflict and plan fun, quality time together.
Family support professionals may experience a decrease in energy and excitement during a crisis. Therefore, managers and co-workers should be proactive and implement several activities to boost staff morale while working from home. Virtual happy hours, virtual meditation rooms, tea and coffee breaks, and virtual lunch together are a few of the activities to boost team morale during this quarantine.5 Some staff use interactive tools during their virtual staff meetings such as Zoom, Kahoot and Mentimeter to boost morale. These activities allow the employees to communicate and support each other, validate one another and adapt to change.
Although family support professionals work from home and follow the shelter in place restrictions, they continue to serve and support parents and caregivers. Many family workers now provide virtual home visits and virtual group connections and connect families to community resources. They collaborate with parents or caregivers to identify the best way to communicate during this critical time. Interactive Video Conferencing (IVC) is a common method for family support professionals to serve families. IVC allows there to be two-way, real-time, audiovisual communication between the home visitor and parent(s), guardians or primary caregiver.
Telephone visits are another method of virtual service delivery to support and serve families. Both telephone visits and IVC allow the opportunity for family support professionals to coach the parent. Coaching parent-child interactions may be more effective since the family support professional is not physically present in the home so that the parent is better positioned to be the one interacting with the child.6 In some situations, workers simply stay connected to the family with telephone check-ins, texting, emails or postal mail.
All of the various methods allow family support professionals to connect to families and promote the five protective factors. Research studies show that when families practice the five protective factors, it helps families navigate difficult situations.7 Whether providing a virtual service or a telephone check-in, remember to allow time for mishaps and be patient because families learning to adjust to the new service delivery.
Family support professionals play a critical role in safely serving families now and in the future. As employees practice self-care, overcome obstacles, learn and adapt to the many changes due to the global health crisis, they will also grow and become stronger in the process as well as the families they serve.
This article is from the Family Support News Brief, a publication by the family support services at Center for Schools and Communities.
1 Starkman, M.N. (2020, March 31). How to Cope with the Corona Virus Anxiety and Stress. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/call/202003/how-cope-coronavirus-anxiety-and-stress
2 Institute for the Advancement of Family Professionals. Professional Conduct and Self-Care. Retrieved from https://institutefsp.org/modules/professional-conduct-and-self-care
3 Medical News Today. Does the 20-20 rule prevent eye strain? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321536#how-to-use-the-20-20-20-rule
4 Pogue, D. (2020, March 29). How to live and work at home without going stir crazy. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-to-live-and-work-at-home-without-going-stir-crazy/
5 Criteo. (2020, March 31). Five Ways We’re Keeping Morale Up During Covid-19. Retrieved from https://www.criteo.com/insights/5-ways-were-keeping-morale-up-during-covid-19/
6 Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A Protective Factors Framework for Addressing Challenges and Opportunities Virtually During Increased Stress and Isolation. Retrieved from https://cppr-institute-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/modules/resources/web/crr/resources/Webinar2RG.pdf
7 Center for the Study of Social Policy. About Strengthening Families™ and the Protective Factors Framework. Retrieved from https://cssp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/About-Strengthening-Families.pdf