We’ve all become familiar with the term ‘telehealth’ since the outbreak of coronavirus in the U.S., but we tend to associate the word with immediate physical health needs. At Notre Dame’s William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families, psychology experts address and study other aspects of health that contribute to healthy family life. Having to turn a physical space that is normally bustling with moms and dads and their children into a virtual environment that preserves research continuity and continues to provide services is not easy, but that’s exactly what the Shaw Center researchers and staff are doing.
Several programs at the center have been converted to a telehealth model, including the child and family therapy clinic and a number of parenting programs such as the Notre Dame Families & Babies Study (ND-FABS). The clinic is a resource for anyone in South Bend and surrounding areas and provides therapy sessions with psychology doctoral students (closely supervised by licensed Notre Dame faculty) for low out-of-pocket rates. The focus of ND-FABS is supporting healthy development in babies by helping moms and dads establish and maintain positive parenting skills.
“ND-FABS involves testing two programs in the home — one that focuses on mothers' and fathers' parenting with their infants and another that focuses on parents' communication skills with each other. When it was becoming clear that we needed to practice social distancing, we and our families were concerned that we would have to stop this part of the study,” said Julie M. Braungart-Rieker, the Mary Hesburgh Flaherty and James F. Flaherty III professor of psychology.
“However, my team (project coordinator, family coaches, and students) have figured out a way to deliver the programs using telehealth methods. After practicing with each other several times while they were in their own homes, my team showed that it could be feasible to try this method out with our families. So we can record the families interacting with each other, provide feedback and discuss any questions or concerns parents might have while practicing social distancing. If families find this method helpful, using telehealth may allow us in the future to reach more families, both in the South Bend community and beyond.”
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb recently extended Indiana’s stay-at-home order until at least April 20 and, while social distancing is necessary to slow the spread of the virus, limiting services affects the most vulnerable populations.
“Across the Shaw Center we have approximately 400 families who are actively involved in our research,” said Kristin Valentino, director of the Shaw Center and associate professor of psychology. “In the study I lead, we have been following the development of about 250 families to understand how early adversity, such as child abuse and neglect, affects development. We are calling all families to better understand and monitor how the stress of COVID-19 is affecting them, and to help connect families with resources whenever possible. Indiana has the second highest rate of child abuse and neglect in the nation, and we are especially committed to supporting these vulnerable families during this time.”
In order to best serve South Bend and the surrounding communities, the Shaw Center works closely with local agencies that serve at-risk families through the Healthy Babies Group, a community resource. To ensure families continue to have access to vital resources, Shaw Center staff, along with partners at WIC, the South Bend Health Department and St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, are compiling available services, benefits and other opportunities that are still available for local families and sending them along to be included in the daily listserv. Families can also follow the Shaw Center on social media for information about services available during this uncertain time.