Tag Archive for: Social Worker Articles

By Kelly Leavitt – June 11, 2024 –

As a Youth First Social Worker, I interact with children in an elementary school setting daily. Most students I serve have the world readily available with electronics such as cell phones, tablets, video games, the internet and social media.

Unfortunately, there is the risk of exposure to material parents are not aware of and wouldn’t approve of. Being able to recognize and understand how electronics can play a factor in your child’s development is key to their growth.

Limiting exposure to electronics has proven beneficial to children in a number of ways. Some of these benefits include increased creativity, socializing, and better sleep. Limiting exposure can also benefit one’s overall physical health, such as decreasing the risk of obesity and other health conditions related to obesity (diabetes, cardiovascular issues, etc.).

There are several ways to limit the use of electronics. Setting aside a specific time (with a time limit) to use electronics, monitoring your child’s activity, using parental controls and encouraging other activities are just a few. Some alternative activities may include playing a board game, reading a book, playing outside or arts and crafts.

Many of us are guilty of spending too much time with electronics and the internet. Unfortunately, many parents today are so busy, and electronics are a quick form of entertainment for the child. Between working, running the household, and all the daily tasks, parents are spread thin and sometimes need that “20-minute break.”

The negative effects associated with long-term electronic use are prevalent in school-aged children. Some of these effects include sleep deprivation, internet addiction, sensory overload and cyberbullying. As a social worker in an elementary school setting, I often observe these issues.

Parenting in our current electronic-based world is no easy task, but it is imperative to set guidelines for electronic use at an early age. Explain to your child the reason behind the guidelines and find a replacement activity instead. Zone in on your child’s interests and hobbies, giving them choices of how they would like to spend their free time.

According to www.pewresearch.org, parents reported the most common device their young children engage with is a television, with 88 percent of parents saying their young child only uses or interacts with a television.

The following statistics relate to the children and families I serve at the elementary school level:

  • 54 percent of children ages 5-8 use a desktop or laptop, while 73 percent of children ages 9-11 use a desktop or laptop
  • 80 percent of children ages 5-11 use or interact with a tablet
  • 59 percent of children ages 5-8 engage with a smartphone, whereas 67 percent of children ages 9-11 engage with a smartphone

It is no secret that technology is greatly influencing our world, and it is our responsibility to prepare our children. Having the tools, feeling informed and being prepared to help your child navigate our ever-changing technological world can make all the difference in their success.

By Rebecca Williams, MSW – June 6, 2024 –

Burnout is defined as chronic stress related to helping others. As a school social worker, I can certainly relate to this, and I believe teachers and other school personnel can as well. According to Michelle Ratcliff in the article, “Social Workers, Burnout, and Self Care” in the Delaware Journal of Public Health, social workers and mental health professionals are very susceptible to burnout.

Ratcliff also notes that a form of burnout we may feel the most is emotional burnout. This type of burnout comes from being emotionally drained and can result in feeling a low sense of personal accomplishment, depersonalization, and pessimism. According to social worker burnout statistics on the website crowncounseling.com, emotional exhaustion is observed at a rate of 70.3 percent of social workers. Current burnout rates among social workers are at 39 percent with a lifetime rate of 75 percent.

Maybe you have experienced burnout before or maybe you haven’t. Either way, we should try to prevent it or reverse it. As school-based service providers, I believe we are given a unique opportunity to combat the onset of burnout. This opportunity comes with holiday breaks and our longest break, summer.

Although some of us may take on an extra job or have young kids home in the summer, we should try our best to plan time for ourselves. We have many options during the summer to implement self-care for our families and ourselves. When I think of summer, I think of a time to take a vacation, go for walks, go on picnics, learn a new skill, go to the beach, or read a book entirely for pleasure instead of something educational. These new skills and forms of self-care we build on in the summer will better prepare us for a new school year in the fall and have us feeling refreshed to provide the best service.

It is also very important for our students to be refreshed. Summer is a perfect time for parents to engage with their children during a much-needed break. Teachers and school personnel should encourage families to implement their own forms of self-care.

According to the article, “Schools Out! Tips For Taking Advantage of Summer Break to De-Stress from the Hustle and Bustle” on the website psychiatry.org, many summer options can fit into any family and lifestyle. The first idea is to spend and enjoy time outside. This can be as simple as going for walks, going to a park, or going to the pool.

A second idea is to reduce the use of technology and electronics during summer break. Technology can have a negative effect on a young person’s mood and self-esteem, so it is important to encourage families to unplug their devices and find creative ways to interact with each other. Additionally, we should encourage our students to spend time with friends and keep their healthy/positive relationships strong.

Lastly, consider practicing mindfulness, which can be defined as paying attention in the present moment. Mindfulness can include practices such as meditation, walking while observing nature, mindful eating, or taking stock of how each body part is feeling while sitting or lying down. This is a way for the family to relax and build closer connections. Mindfulness is something I encourage with my students, and extending that to their family would be an added benefit. This way the family can reinforce progress the student has made and build good habits together.

By Sarah Laury, MSW, LCSW – May 30, 2024 –

The month of June is Pride month, dedicated to celebrating and recognizing members of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as supporters and allies. Pride is celebrated during the month of June in honor of the Stonewall Uprising, which took place in New York City on June 28th, 1969.

According to GLADD, an organization focused on LGBTQ advocacy and cultural change, Pride month provides “an opportunity for the community to come together, take stock, and recognize the advances and setbacks made in the past year. It is also a chance for the community to come together and celebrate in a festive, affirming atmosphere.” 

There are many ways you can celebrate Pride month in Southern Indiana.  Here are some of the events scheduled:

June 1st:    River City Pride Parade and Festival, Evansville

June 8th:   Warrick County Pride Festival

June 9th:   Pride Pickleball at Wesselman Park Courts, Evansville

June 14th: Resource Fair and Music Fest and Haynie’s Corner Pride Night, Evansville

June 15th: Pride in the Park at Garvin Park, Evansville

June 23rd: Pride Night at the Evansville Otters, Bosse Field

June 29th: Princeton Pride Festival

June 29th: Dubois County Pride

More information and a full calendar of events can be found at https://www.rivercityprideindiana.org/events.

Below are some resources specific to LGBTQIA+ youth:

University of Evansville Pride Camp – June 23rd-June 28th : According to the University of Evansville website, kids in grades 8-12 can “spend a week living on campus at the University of Evansville for this first-of-its-kind summer camp! Build lifelong friends with incredible activities throughout the week while learning about social justice and activism. Hear powerful stories of LGBTQ+ history and heroes – and learn how to write your own story your way.”  More information can be found on their website: https://www.evansville.edu/camps/pride-camp.cfm

Greater Evansville Youth is a youth group for LGBTQIA+ students and allies. According to their website, “Greater Evansville Youth creates a positive safe space for youth to build community with each other, learn how to advocate for themselves, and to express their individuality and personal identity.”  Groups meet weekly, and more information can be found on their website:  https://greaterevansvilleyouth.org/  

The Rainbow Jacket Project is a free clothing resource for trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people.  According to their website, “The Rainbow Jacket Project strives to create a safe, supportive environment for trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals. We offer free clothing and accessories to help affirm people’s gender identities, regardless of age or socioeconomic status.” https://rainbowjacket.wixsite.com/home

The Trevor Project is a nonprofit suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization that offers support and information for LGBTQIA+ young people 24/7, all year round. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/

By Amanda Haney, MSW, LSW – May 29, 2024 –

How does screen time affect your child’s sleep patterns?

Sleep is important to growing and developing brains. According to the CDC, toddlers need 11-14 hours of sleep, preschool-aged kids need 10-13 hours, school-aged kids needs 9-12 hours, teens need 8-10 hours, and adults need at minimum seven hours per 24-hour time period.

Sleep is an important indication of overall physical and mental health. Several things can get in the way of a healthy sleep schedule, but in recent years screen time has been high on the list for school-aged children.

Our sleep cycle (circadian rhythm) mostly takes its cue from sunlight. Our brains register when we need sleep based on when it becomes dark. When our circadian rhythm is out-of-sync, it can lead to insomnia. According to sleepfoundation.org, smartphones, tablets, computers, television screens, and some e-readers give off short-wavelength blue light that is very similar to sunlight. The blue light from these devices not only makes individuals more alert but also prevents the production of melatonin in the user’s body.

Not getting the proper amount of sleep can cause school-aged children to struggle at home and at school. This can cause poor school performance, poor attitude, decrease in mental health, and conflicts in relationships. It can also play a part in students having the inability to self-regulate, which causes more issues that are disciplinary.

According to Afy Okoye on the website sleepdoctor.com, “Not getting sleep puts teens in a kind of haze. That can have negative effects on the way they think, react and learn. It also has an impact on their ability to control their emotions and get along with adults. Not getting sleep can cause traffic accidents and accidental injuries, and it also results in teens acting impulsively and recklessly.”

The average teen uses electronics more than seven hours a day, according to Dr. Michael Breus (https://sleepdoctor.com/teens/how-screen-time-affects-teens-sleep/). They use electronics for school, as well as personal devices such as tablets, cell phones and even televisions. When teens and school-aged children spend more time on their devices, it leads to them getting fewer hours of sleep each night.

Here are some tips to help students improve their sleep schedules and ensure they get more hours of sleep each night:

1. Set boundaries for screen time. Have a conversation with your child and let them know your limits.

2. Stop device usage at least an hour before bed. Have a set bedtime to make this easier.

3. Remove electronics from the bedroom.

4. Wear blue light-blocking glasses.

5. Set a schedule and time limit for daily usage.

6. Practice good sleeping habits. Lead by example. Show your children how you follow these rules to improve your own sleep habits.

7. Give options of activities that students can do in place of using devices, such as reading a book, coloring, journaling, or spending time with family.

Sleep plays a major role in our children’s physical and emotional health. Too much screen time influences the amount and quality level of sleep. Setting screen time limits for our children can help them improve their sleep health and overall well-being.

By Haley Droste, MSW, LCSW – May 22, 2024 –

Everyone knows someone with a “glass half-empty” attitude about life. It seems like a dark cloud just follows them around, and it can be exhausting to spend too much time with them.

We also know people who are just the opposite; they always see the “silver lining” and fill the people around them with hope. Being positive or negative is not just a personality trait; it’s a way of thinking. Our brain is a muscle that can always learn new tricks. Training your brain to be more positive has many benefits – not just for the people around you – but also for you!

Even the most positive people have negative things happening in their lives. Being positive does not mean bad things won’t happen; it means you will be better equipped and more resilient when faced with adversity.

According to the Mayo Clinic, thinking positive is good for more than just your mental health. It also has physical health benefits, such as increased life span, decreased depression, and better coping skills during times of stress, which impacts cardiovascular health.

Knowing that thinking positive is good for you is one thing, but changing your way of thinking is something else completely. The first thing to do is just notice when you feel yourself sinking into negative thoughts. Noticing the behavior is the first step to correcting it. If you feel yourself consistently blaming others for things that go wrong, catastrophizing events, or expecting perfection from yourself or those around you, you could be following a negative line of thinking. Once you notice yourself doing these things, calling yourself out on the thought process (or asking someone to help you notice them) is the first step.

Practicing positive self-talk can be beneficial for this change as well. We tend to be our own worst critic. You can improve your self-talk by identifying your own strengths. Focusing on individual strengths can be a challenge if the practice is not familiar to you, but it is also very rewarding when your brain starts to learn how to focus on the positive. Try using daily positive affirmations to help rewire the thoughts you have about yourself.

The company you keep can also be a factor when it comes to your outlook on life. Surrounding yourself with people who think positively allows you to be more comfortable thinking this way as well. You also want to be sure that the people around you are supportive of you and your goals. Being with people who put down your ideas or view things in a more negative light can have an impact on your thought process and your self-esteem.

The power of positive thinking is limitless. There are many areas of our lives that can improve by consistently and purposefully focusing on the good around us. Practice leads to progress. The more you start integrating these skills into your day-to-day, the easier it will be to have a more positive attitude and reap the benefits of positive thinking.

By Sophia Blaha, MSW, LCSW, and Hailee Wolfe – May 15, 2024

The perfect summer camp experience can provide children with an opportunity to explore new friendships, engage in new activities, and gain new insights. For children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), summer camp can also be a valuable source of self-assurance. Campers often feel more confident venturing out of their comfort zones when they are part of a supportive group of kids and adults. However, we can’t always count on everything to go according to plan during camp.

Unfortunately, each year there are stories from parents whose ADHD children were asked to leave camp for various reasons. Maybe parents were unaware that the camp was unprepared to support their child until it was too late. When a camp lacks an understanding of ADHD, there’s a chance campers may experience unfavorable outcomes. Oftentimes, these children are not required to participate in activities, and although they don’t usually cause trouble, they may wind up feeling isolated or sitting by themselves.

If you’re curious whether a summer camp will serve your kids’ needs and interests, it might be beneficial to favor programs that involve physical activity, which can benefit the body and mind. As someone who has experience working in a summer camp setting, I have seen some children with ADHD thrive in this setting but have also seen some who have struggled.

Below are some questions that might be important to ask before enrolling your child in a summer camp:

1.  What is the structure of the camp schedule for my child’s age group?
How much time do campers have to participate in free play or activities of their choosing? Some children with impulse control problems do not do well in unstructured camps, and “free time” is when they have the hardest time.

2. Are campers required to participate in activities or can they choose to sit out?
The ideal answer would be that they are strongly encouraged and supported to participate in all activities but are not forced. Additionally, parents should be notified if their child is sitting out of activities more often than not.

3. If my child needs some time to “decompress,” where would they do that?
Children with ADHD benefit when they develop self-soothing and calming strategies, which prove invaluable in moments of emotional dysregulation at school and home. Camps may have a special accommodation form where you can include some self-soothing strategies that may help your child. A camp should encourage its campers to develop these regulatory skills while ensuring they aren’t left out or forgotten.

4. What is the staff-to-camper ratio?
A summer camp’s staff-to-camper ratio is an important factor to take into account. If this is your child’s first time attending camp, you might want to ensure they will have adequate supervision and attention from staff members who have experience working with children with ADHD.

5. How much time is spent on screen-based activities?
If your child likes a lot of screen time, less is better here. This will enhance their interactions with other children at camp.

6. What can I do to help my child succeed at camp?
Camp staff should know your child’s strengths and how to support them if they are struggling. A good camp staff will appreciate parent transparency, proactive strategy ideas, and opportunities for collaboration. Things that are not helpful include holding off on your child’s ADHD diagnosis or scheduling a “medication vacation” to coincide with camp. Summer camp demands high levels of attention, emotional regulation, and impulse control from children. If your child is taking ADHD medication during the school year, it might be a good idea to have them continue taking it during camp. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about what they recommend.

How the camp director responds to these questions should provide you with information about whether the camp is a good fit for your child. Additional resources on this topic can also be found at the website ADDitude.com.

By Chelsea Rasch, MSW, LCSW – May 8, 2024 –

America’s youth are in the throes of a mental health crisis. Professionals continue to observe a rise in mental health-related struggles in school-aged children since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), 67 percent of US high school students reported that schoolwork was more difficult; 55 percent experienced emotional abuse in the home; 11 percent experienced physical abuse; and 24 percent reported they did not have enough food to eat during the pandemic.

All of these issues can have a detrimental effect on mental health. Another study conducted by Pew Research Center (2022) found that four in ten US parents have reported being “extremely” or “very” worried about children struggling with anxiety or depression.

To respond to these mental health implications in our school-aged youth, we are seeing a bigger push for mental health services both in and out of the school environment. Children are being referred at alarming frequency for outside therapeutic services and are being seen by psychiatrists/primary care physicians for medication management. Inside schools, we are seeing a bigger push for school behavior interventionists, as well as more counselors and school-based social workers and/or psychologists to combat these mental health-related struggles.

All of these interdisciplinary professionals, schools, and families are working together towards one common goal: to strengthen resiliency skills and supports within our schools and communities to foster successful student outcomes. Resiliency skills refer to our ability to face and adapt to challenges and overcome them.

Many parents have come forward with one common question: How can I help my child build these resiliency skills at home?

  1. Discuss resiliency and coping skills with your children. When we practice and build our skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship building and decision-making, we are better equipped to navigate stressors, anxieties, and challenges. We can solve problems and work together at a higher level—in the classroom, at work and at home. Talk with your child about strategies that help them deal with difficult emotions. Do they practice deep breathing, listening to music? Or do they become argumentative and dysregulated? Identifying your child’s coping and resiliency patterns can give you a foundation to build upon.

  2. Model the behavior you wish to see. Children learn by watching their parents. One way to foster resiliency skills in children is to model these healthy behaviors at home. Dealing with difficult feelings/situations in an appropriate way and including children in these conversations can help build these skills. It’s important to stay calm and realistic. Children sense when we are worried and anxious, and our emotions can directly affect the emotions of our children. Remember, no one is perfect; it is not realistic to expect yourself to respond the right way every time. Practice keeping yourself regulated so you can model emotional regulation for your child.

  3. Remember the importance of self-care. Children are often sensitive to the stress of their caregivers. To cultivate their resiliency skills, we must ensure we are taking care of our own mental, social, and emotional wellness. Building in time (even if it’s only 15 minutes per day) for our own wellness practices – journaling, walking, meditating, exercising – can not only help model appropriate self-care, but also mitigate our own stress levels. Much like putting on your own oxygen mask before putting on a child’s, take care of yourself so you’re able to show up for others. If this is difficult for you, start out with a small goal and build on it. For example, listen to your favorite music for a “mindfulness moment” or go on a short walk at the beginning or end of the day.
     
  4. Connect with school/community professionals. Research and connect with professionals in your community to discuss how to optimize your child’s resiliency skills and success. Reach out to community providers, agencies, or local non-profits for additional education and activities. Connecting your child with a local club (YMCA, Boy Scouts, etc.) can be a great way to build resiliency skills and connect them with other children. Reach out to your child’s Youth First Mental Health Professional or school counselor to discuss additional ways to support your child.

  5. Practice, practice, practice! Regularly practicing healthy coping skills in response to stress is imperative, just as it is for any other skill like reading, math, or dribbling a basketball. In the same way we practice those skills, we have to practice identifying, expressing, and managing our emotions. By continually doing so, we build a toolkit we can readily draw upon to navigate stressors or de-escalate conflicts.

By Heather Miller, LCSW – May 3, 2024 –

Food. Fuel. Utilities. Clothing. Medical bills. Vehicle maintenance. The cost of everything has increased substantially, leaving many Hoosiers wondering how to stay afloat.

The struggle to meet basic needs is overwhelming for many. According to the Department of Agriculture, almost 7 million families noted missing meals during 2022 due to need. Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of lower-income families reported not having the funds for food or rent/mortgage payments.  According to US News, nearly 40 percent of Americans struggle to provide necessities, with 23 percent experiencing food insecurity in the last year.

The impact goes beyond the need for additional funds. Struggling to meet basic needs is likely to increase familial stress. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy notes that financial distress can lead to academic, behavioral, and mental health concerns. Anxiety and depression may surface or increase when a person is experiencing financial distress.

There are resources to help. By utilizing such resources, families and children are more likely to be productive at work and school and experience decreased stress and greater happiness.

Being aware of options for help is important with so many persons in need; yet many individuals may not know how to find help. Researching individual resources can be time consuming. Indiana offers databases to help families looking for assistance.

One of these databases is located at the website https://www.in.gov/dwd/job-seekers/other-assistance-programs/.  Information about childcare assistance; the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program; and energy assistance are just a few of the links available from this database.

Other resources are available by dialing 2-1-1. Data shows that 2-1-1 provided over 18 million resources in 2022. Dialing 2-1-1 offers access to a navigator that will help connect individuals with resources. Resources may also be explored at https://in211.communityos.org/advanced-search.  After selecting the resource desired and entering a zip code, agencies and programs dedicated to that need appear. Most have information about how to access the resource as well as when it is available.

Many assistance programs depend on volunteers and donations to continue to provide for those in need. If meeting basic needs is not a concern for your family, consider helping others in need by organizing a clothing drive, raising funds, or donating time as a family.

According to Feeding America, adolescents who volunteer report better grades, better self-esteem, and even reduced substance use. Setting an example of volunteering as a family will help instill the importance of helping others in younger generations. This is beneficial to society as a whole.

Youth First Mental Health Professionals can also assist families with accessing resources. Please reach out to your school’s Youth First Mental Health Professional for more information.  If you are unsure if your school is served by Youth First or need contact information, please visit this website: https://youthfirstinc.org/findsocialworker/

By Leah Doughty, LMHCA – April 30, 2024

The term “grit,” coined by psychologist Angela Duckworth, is characterized by a combination of resilience, determination, and persistence, even in the face of setbacks and obstacles.

In the face of all of life’s challenges, helping your child develop grit is more important than ever. However, it is not necessarily comfortable for parents. It can be easier to “fix” than to teach.

Parents may find it uncomfortable to let their child experience failure and disappointment, so they resort to rescuing, an aspect of helicopter parenting. Helicopter parenting refers to a “hover” style of parenting that is highly protective. While helicopter parents typically have good intentions and may believe they are acting in their children’s best interests, research suggests that this style of parenting can have negative consequences. Children of helicopter parents are more likely to struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, and a lack of resilience; in other words, they lack grit.

The following are some ways to help your child develop grit:

  1. Instead of jumping in to rescue your child, let them experience setbacks and failures while showing them support and encouragement. Tell them you believe in them and ask them what they learned from the experience. Encourage your kids to try again, be persistent, and not give up.
  2. Help your child set goals, take risks, and celebrate small victories and milestones along the way to larger goals.
  3. Demonstrate your trust in them by giving them space to problem-solve and overcome obstacles on their own.
  4. Talk with them about your own experiences of overcoming challenges through hard work and determination.
  5. Encourage your child to stick with activities when they become challenging or frustrating.
  1. And finally, model resilience and grit in your own life.

We can’t protect our kids from all of life’s hardships. Parental qualities that foster grit can be challenging but come with great rewards for our kids in the long run.

By fostering a growth-oriented mindset, you can help your child develop grit, setting them up for success in school, relationships, and life.

By Paige Byrd, MSW, LSW – April 18, 2024

Self-care is a vital part of our everyday lives. It promotes healthy living, reduces stress, increases relaxation, and improves our overall well-being. Self-care can help your mental and physical health by boosting your mood and increasing your activity rate.

The fun part about self-care is that you can incorporate it at any time of the day. Just five minutes of self-care can boost your mood and increase your dopamine levels! According to the National Institute of Mental Health, self-care means creating time to do things to help improve your life and increase your well-being. Your mental health is important, so taking the extra step to improve it can have a huge impact on your daily living.

Self-care helps you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and increase your energy. Some great self-care tips include incorporating at least 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine, eating healthy meals, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, setting goals and priorities, and staying positive!

There are numerous ways to add self-care activities to your day. Some ideas include meditation, reading, painting, dancing, listening to relaxing music, taking a bath, going on a walk, watching your favorite show, and getting enough sleep. The list is endless. Creating a routine to incorporate self-care can reduce the percentage rate of burnout.

According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, burnout is defined as “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.” Burnout occurs when a person overworks or becomes overly stressed in their daily lives.

When you are constantly on the go with a million different tasks and activities, it is important to take some time for yourself, to do something for you that allows you to breathe. I like to take fifteen minutes in the morning, as soon as I wake up, to do a quick meditation. This helps me start my day off in a positive mindset. I also incorporate breathing activities in between client sessions to ground myself throughout the day.

Self-care is also a great tool to share with others. It allows more people to be aware of its benefits. Remember, self-care is for everyone! It leads to a happier and healthier way of living. 

Take a moment to pause and reflect on three activities you enjoy doing. Now find a time in your day, even five minutes, maybe an hour, where you can pause for a moment and put yourself first. Got that? Now do it! Start small. Building a routine or adding in something that is unusual may seem challenging at first, but once you start, it will get easier! The more you practice, the easier it gets, so start now! Do yourself a favor, start incorporating self-care into your daily lives. You will be glad you did!