TCOM students call struggling parents to help them cope during COVID-19 crisis

By Jan Jarvis

Covid 19 Kids And Stress Web

Infants, toddlers and teens are among the latest victims of Covid-19 as a spike in abuse cases triggers alarms across the country.

Unemployment, health worries, mounting bills, social isolation and closed schools – on top of potty training, tantrums and family tension – sometimes can push parents to the edge.

“There’s just a lot of stress going on in these households,” said Dr. Priya Bui, Assistant Professor in Pediatrics. “They’re desperate for help during the pandemic.”

To address child abuse concerns, pediatricians and Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine students are reaching out to families through phone calls and telemedicine visits. They are connecting them to licensed social workers, resources such as Healthy Steps specialists and even setting them up with telemedicine visits with a pediatrician. The Pediatric Mobile Clinic team is also contacting families and connecting them to resources.

Nationwide, there has been an increase in child abuse cases and deaths.  In Fort Worth, Cook Children’s Medical Center had three deaths – all of them toddlers – from child abuse in one month when normally it is less than 10 for the year. They also have had 17 admissions.

About a dozen fourth-year TCOM students volunteered to make the daily phone visits as a way to address this issue and help families cope. The calls are designed to screen for signs of stress spiraling out of control, before it turns into abuse.

“A child abuser is not necessarily an obvious monster,” Dr. Bui said. “It’s someone who doesn’t have coping skills and is having a hard time dealing with so many stressors.”

Dr Robinson Web
Dr. Christina Robinson, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at HSC

These are difficult times for so many families, said Dr. Christina Robinson, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

“Most of our families need food and are concerned with paying for rent after decreased pay or lost jobs,” she said. “Families are feeling stressed and stretched thin between cooking, teaching school age children, assuming care of additional family members, and looking for help for their family.”

Pediatricians rely on routine or well-child visits, to look for stressors and psychosocial issues, but now they don’t have that opportunity, Dr. Bui said.

Many families just need a little reassurance, said Michael Petrus-Jones, a fourth year TCOM student who volunteered to make the daily calls. They seem so grateful to get their questions answered and know someone cares, he said.

Concerns about feeding and sleeping are common among the parents of two- to six-month-olds. Parents of toddlers are dealing with behavioral issues that are common among 18-month-olds to three-year-olds.

For some teens, the pandemic has triggered anxiety and depression, especially if they have suffered from mental health issues in the past.

Normally, teens can access many resources through their school, but now they’re struggling with loneliness and isolation, Dr. Bui said. Some are spending all day on social media. Others are anxious about doing schoolwork or depressed because they must miss milestones such as graduation.

“A lot of teens are cut off from friends, sports, a job, and that affects their mood,” Dr. Bui said. “All the things they rely on are out of their reach now.”

In some cases, medication might be needed or they may need their dosage increased.

The effort to reach out to families has been so successful that Dr. Bui said the outreach might continue it after the isolation eases.

Petrus-Jones said that talking with parents has had an impact on him as well.

“It’s been a big lesson in the power of empathy and compassion,” he said.

Recent News

Screenshot 2024 06 20 At 3.45.01 pm
  • Our People
|Jun 20, 2024

From sacrifice to success: a journey through physical therapy school

Ancelmo Mojarro came to Fort Worth to study. The Tyler native knew he wanted to be a physical therapist early on his undergraduate days. He embarked on his path to physical therapy a decade ago, inspired by a friend's suggestion amidst his quest to find his calling in the medical field. “I starte...
Garciarosanski
  • Our People
|Jun 20, 2024

HSC pro bono physical therapy program offers hope

For 70-year-old Beverly Rozanski, the journey to improved health has been long and challenging. Raised in Michigan, Rozanski spent her childhood and early adult years struggling with physical challenges that made even the simplest tasks seem insurmountable. However, her discovery of a pro bono p...
Mills John
  • Our People
|Jun 20, 2024

Team of HSC experts develops national position statement for NCCHC on care for aging patients in correctional facilities

Addressing an overlooked and sometimes neglected patient population, a group of experts from The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth partnered with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care to write a “Care for Aging Patients in the Correctional Setting” posit...
Jennifer Fix 2 Purple
  • Education
|Jun 18, 2024

Pharmacy technician shortage driving force behind new, online prep course

A self-paced, online Pharmacy Technician Preparation Course is now being offered through The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth as a way to help combat the shortage of pharmacy technicians at hospitals, health systems and retail pharmacies. Recognized by the Pharmacy Tech...