Guest Column

Opinion: With SCS’ virtual learning decision, parents need virtual services, too

By , Guest Columnist Updated: August 04, 2020 7:59 AM CT | Published: August 04, 2020 4:00 AM CT
Guest Columnist

Renée Wilson-Simmons

Dr. Renée Wilson-Simmons is an expert in child development and executive director of the Memphis-based Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Awareness Foundation. The foundation administers the Universal Parenting Places – a free resource to help parents overcome the impact of trauma and support the healthy development of their children.

<strong>Ren&eacute;e <br />Wilson-Simmons</strong>


Shelby County Schools’ announcement that students and families will participate in 100% virtual learning when classes resume on Aug. 31 has, in some ways, added a bit of certainty to the coming semester.

But there can be no doubt that many parents are feeling even higher levels of anxiety – even panic – as they must now make life-changing decisions about how to balance all the demands that this new reality will require of their families.

Parents are under enormous emotional and mental strain. And the challenges they’re facing are unprecedented: Keeping themselves and their families COVID-free, continuing to remain employed or trying to find work if unemployed, and ensuring that their children are connected not just to the internet for virtual learning but to opportunities to foster their social-emotional health – and that’s the short list.

Opinion: Adverse childhood experiences, schools and COVID

All of this can make it incredibly difficult for parents to maintain a positive, nurturing connection with their children. And we know that when families are in tumult, the danger that children will suffer from traumas like neglect, abuse and witnessing family violence is very real.

As parents make plans for handling virtual schooling, there are people they can turn to for help dealing with the angst they’re experiencing, and the harsher realities they may face in the months ahead. And they don’t have to leave their homes or endanger their family’s health to get support at Universal Parenting Places.

UPPs are judgment-free centers developed and supported by the Adverse Childhood Experiences Awareness Foundation. They provide parents, grandparents and other family caregivers of children professional counseling with a licensed therapist; information, emotional support and referrals for family issues; and stress-reduction and parent-child bonding activities – all at no cost.

The UPPs use the latest brain science and best practices in family therapy to help parents address common concerns affecting children’s healthy development.

COVID-19’s profound effects on children are on the horizon

Memphis’ four UPPs are located at Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women, the only freestanding women’s hospital in Memphis; Knowledge Quest, a longstanding nonprofit that promotes youth and community development; Perea Preschool and Elementary School, operated by Church Health, the largest faith-based health care organization of its type in the nation; and Christ Community Health Services in Raleigh, a group of federally qualified health centers that are the largest primary health care provider in Shelby County.

In light of COVID-19, the sites have pivoted to offering virtual support for parents. Counselors can provide individual counseling to parents via HIPAA-compliant telehealth video chats as well as by phone. They also launched a catalog of online programming on their Facebook page to provide group support and stress reduction, including yoga, meditation, mindfulness and toddler/preschool story time.

The rise in anxiety and depression triggered by COVID-19, the collective panic around the economic downturn, and the stress of complying with social distancing required to curb the spread of the disease mean that we in the mental health and human service fields have to think differently about how to help our neighbors.

Barriers that normally stop parents from seeking support, including social stigma around counseling and therapy, have eased with the privacy of telehealth and virtual services. Many parents have told us they prefer virtual therapy because they no longer have to arrange – and in some cases, pay for – child care for their appointments.

We know that children do better when parents do better. Let us support the virtual learning decision made by Shelby County Schools while also supporting parents in their efforts to lift up their children and their families. In a difficult and confusing time for parents, let us help those who are struggling with trauma, anxiety and depression.


ACE Awareness Foundation COVID-19 Universal Parenting Places


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