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

Scott Walters
  • Our People
|Dec 7, 2022

Through NIH HEAL Initiative, Dr. Scott Walters and colleagues accelerate fight against the nation’s opioid crisis

Four years ago, the National Institutes of Health introduced the unprecedented HEAL Initiative to address the nation’s public health crisis of opioid misuse, addiction and overdose. More than $2 billion has been invested in 1,000 research projects to date, spanning basic and clinical research ...
Wellest Team
  • On Campus
|Dec 6, 2022

Wellest Inc. founder Dave Sekowski partners with HSC faculty through Techstars program

For Dave Sekowski, founder and CEO of Wellest Inc., the road to wellness has not been easy. Growing up with limited access to healthy food and education about health and nutrition, he struggled with childhood obesity. “I had to take it upon myself to figure it out,” Sekowski said. “I joined...
IHI Banner
  • Patient Care
|Dec 6, 2022

TCOM leadership presents patient safety course to 2022 IHI forum

The Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine’s innovative patient safety course and how to incorporate it into an academic curriculum was on display at the 2022 Institute for Healthcare Improvement Forum in Orlando, Florida.  Frank Filipetto, DO, CPPS, FACOFP, dean of TCOM, and Lillee Gelinas DNP...
Stephanie Ibekwe
  • Our People
|Dec 5, 2022

A voice for women in medicine

When Dr. Stephanie Ibekwe’s mother, Sarah, came home from her nursing job, she would tell her daughter stories about her patients and the conversations she had with them. “Nursing is pretty stressful, but my mom had an amazing way of handling things,” she said. “My mom really loved to bui...