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UMass Medical School child trauma expert co-authors COVID-19 resource for supporting children’s well-being

Jessica Griffin and Child Trends researchers offer guidance for caregivers, educators and clinicians

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Jessica Griffin, PsyD

As children’s regular routines are upended during the COVID-19 pandemic, they turn to the adults in their lives for emotional as well as physical safety. A newly released resource guide co-authored by UMass Medical School child psychologist and trauma-informed care leader Jessica Griffin, PsyD, and colleagues at the national child welfare research center Child Trends offers research-informed guidance for caretakers.

“In addition to keeping children physically safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also important to care for their emotional health,” wrote Dr. Griffin, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics and director and principal investigator for the Child Training Research Center at UMMS; Jessica Dym Bartlett, PhD, MSW, director of the Child Trends Massachusetts office; and Dana Thomson, PhD, senior research scientist for Child Trends. “This resource offers information on supporting and protecting children’s emotional well-being as this public health crisis unfolds.”

The advice in Resources for Supporting Children’s Emotional Well-being during the COVID-19 Pandemic is to keep things as predictable and positive as possible for children who may be experiencing emotional distress, especially those with pre-existing behavioral and mental health conditions.

“First, adults should reassure children about their safety and the safety of loved ones and tell them that it is adults’ job to ensure their safety,” Griffin and co-authors wrote. “Second, adults should maintain routines to provide children with a sense of safety and predictability.” Examples include regular bedtimes and meals and daily schedules for learning and play.

Specific tips help parents understand that kids’ reactions to the pandemic may vary and how to create a safe physical and emotional environment by practicing reassurance, routines and regulation.

The guide includes creative approaches to staying connected so that social distancing doesn’t become social isolation; provides guidance on age appropriate information; encourages keeping kids busy and promoting their self-efficacy; and emphasizes strengths, hope and positivity.

With its mission to improve the standard of care for traumatized youth across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Child Trauma Training Center is a statewide program within the Department of Psychiatry at UMass Medical School providing training, referral services, research and direct care. It is funded by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network of the U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration; the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, the Lookout Foundation and other sources.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Child Trends research center is the lead evaluating agency for the Child Trauma Training Center.