As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, many children and families struggling with mental health problems are at increased risk of impact from the pandemic due to sudden loss of services.
Parents have been uniquely challenged because they were abruptly tasked with balancing remote work to make ends meet, parenting their kids and homeschooling them full-time indefinitely. Access to mental health care is more important than ever. The FIU Center for Children and Families (CCF) recognized the need for mental health services and rose to the challenge of safely delivering the highest standards of child mental health care to families in a time of crisis.
Supporting families in need
With a team of nearly 40 of the nation’s best researchers and clinical experts, the CCF quickly shifted in March of 2020 to launch a widespread telehealth clinical program and adapted as many of their in-person research studies to a remote format, which was no easy feat. As it became safer to do so, and once FIU opened its doors again in the fall of 2020, the CCF began to provide both virtual and in-person services, allowing for greatest flexibility. By doing so, the CCF safely served more than 2,400 families in 2021. During the same summer, for the first time in two years, they held their nationally acclaimed summer camp programs in-person, which collectively provided more than 72,000 hours of needed treatment to 241 children and their families in just eight weeks.
They also provided a variety of mental health resources and hosted online events for families who were seeking guidance during this uncertain period. One key program that had a profound impact was the Parent Club program led by Katie Hart and funded by The Children’s Trust. The program provides free, online workshops for caregivers, addressing topics like positive parenting, parenting during a pandemic, raising resilient children and more. The program hosted 825 events throughout the year, a total of roughly 1,339 hours of service, and reached more than 4,500 families.
Advancing child mental health through research
As the largest institution in Florida conducting child mental health research, the CCF continued gaining important insights into the causes, processes, effects and treatment of child and adolescent mental health disorders.
Despite the unprecedented challenges, affiliated faculty held 55 active research projects in 2021, totaling $81.4 million in federal funding, published 153 research papers in top scientific journals, and received 10 awards for research excellence.
“While some studies were put on hold, there were opportunities for our faculty to jump into action and begin working on research projects to investigate the effects of the pandemic on various children’s mental health issues,” said William E. Pelham Jr., distinguished professor and director of the CCF. FIU Professor Jonathan S. Comer is collaborating in an international study to examine the impact of coronavirus on families. FIU psychologists Elisa Trucco and Matthew Sutherland are investigating how the pandemic is contributing to increased substance use and growing mental health concerns among Hispanic adolescents.
Training and education
One of the primary objectives of the center is to educate students, consumers and professionals in mental health, education, and primary care. This past year the center continued offering Continuing Education credits to licensed mental health professionals and received more than 142,000 views on our Effective Child Therapy continuing education videos.
Furthermore, the center continued training the next generation of mental health professionals by providing training to 360 undergraduate students, 152 doctoral and master-level students and 16 postdoctoral fellows. “While the journey during the coronavirus pandemic has been incredibly challenging and unpredictable, we are proud to witness the immeasurable strength and determination of our faculty, staff and students, who chose to focus on our mission and put the families we serve first,” added Pelham. “We are hopeful that together, we can continue to weather the storm.”