Though school buildings are empty, Youth First, Inc. continues to strengthen the social and emotional well-being of thousands of Indiana children and families who are homebound due to the COVID-19 crisis. Youth First is now using secure phone lines and virtual platforms to provide mental health supports for students, parents, and even educators.

The agency partners with school districts across 10 Indiana counties to embed social workers in 81 schools, where they become specialized mentors for students and prevention coaches for parents and teachers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the expertise provided by Youth First’s team of 59 social workers is needed now more than ever.

“When it feels like the world has turned upside down, a calm and caring mentor can help make things right again,” said Parri O. Black, President & CEO of Youth First. “Though school buildings are closed, Youth First Social Workers continue to help students and parents adjust, cope, and ultimately, thrive beyond this crisis.”

The unique care Youth First provides is taking other unprecedented yet critical forms with the help of technology. Families can find fun and helpful activities to do with their children on the organization’s COVID-19 Family Care web page: These social and emotional learning resources can help caregivers, too.

“Many parents are juggling home schooling and working remotely or otherwise, which can lead to increased stress and anxiety,” Black said. “We encourage families to focus on activities and coping strategies that relieve stress and help everyone stay calm, hopeful, and healthy.”

Youth First is also adapting prevention programs and trainings for teachers to deliver through digital and video-based platforms. These resources will be essential as the crisis continues to evolve. Unfortunately, communities could see increases in addiction, suicide, violence, child abuse, and more.

“Research shows that strengthening mindsets and social skills in young people now will reduce the likelihood of these problems later,” Black said. “Youth First Social Workers and programs are doing just that by building caring relationships, fostering readiness for positive changes, and ultimately, boosting resiliency in students and families.”

The organization’s positive outcomes and tremendous impact are also driving growth, with more schools seeking a partnership with Youth First to address the growing social and emotional needs of students.