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New youth centre hotline extends telephone counselling to entire community

Published on

Cathy Dobson

To help children during this difficult time, talk to them directly about COVID-19, a local mental health expert.

By not talking about the pandemic, you create fear and anxiety, says Craig McKenzie, director of operations at St. Clair Child & Youth Services.

“Chances are your kids know about coronavirus and they need the adults in their lives to reassure them,” McKenzie said.

“A good question to ask them is what do they already know about it.”

Children are egocentric and worried about how the pandemic will change their world, he said.  “Talk to them about that and reassure them.”

In more normal times, St. Clair Child & Youth Services provides counselling for hundreds of local children and their families. During the current health crisis the agency is reaching beyond its client list and extending help to the entire community.

A new hotline for telephone counselling (519-337-3701) was launched March 23 for anyone under the age of 18 and their parents.

An intake worker answers the phone and does a brief interview. If required, a therapist will call the same day.

“This is not a crisis line. Go to the ER or call 911 for that,” said McKenzie. “This is to fill a gap during a very challenging time.”

Once social distancing was recommended to slow the spread of COVID-19, the St. Clair Child & Youth centre closed its doors and its team of 65 began working from home.

“This is a whole new world for us,” McKenzie said.  “We’re very proud of how quickly we got telephone counselling up and running.”

“There’s a lot of anxiety around this for everyone.  People worry they might get it or their child might get it.”

He recommends parents explain they are doing everything they can to stay well, including frequent hand washing, social distancing, coughing into their sleeve and taking care of themselves with sleep and exercise.

“Explain that there are great resources in our community to help us if we get sick. Keep it age appropriate and don’t get into the fine details,” McKenzie said.

When parents themselves become anxious, he recommends they “do what heals their soul.” Meditate, exercise, talk to friends or look online for tips to cope with anxietyThe Big White Wall is a recommended website to deal with anxiety for anyone 16 years and older.

McKenzie also recommended The Canadian Mental Health Association’s Bounce Back website.

“What’s important is that kids and parents need to know it’s OK to feel how they feel. Don’t hush it up or disregard it,” he said.

“Have the conversation. We are going to get through this. Let’s get through this together.” 

Additional Resources suggested by St. Clair Child and Youth

‘Brains On’ (A Podcast for kids) –Understanding Coronavirus and how germs spread

WHO Infographic – Helping children cope with stress during the 2019-nCoV outbreak

MPR News – Comic about Coronavirus for Kids – based on an NPR interview

Psychology Today – Article: How to talk to Kids and Teens about the Coronavirus

Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Foundation – Helping Children and Teens Cope with Anxiety About COVID-19

CDC – Talking with children about Coronavirus Disease 2019: Messages for parents, school staff, and others working with children

*Quote source: https://pulse.seattlechildrens.org/helping-children-and-teens-cope-with-anxiety-covid-19/




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