“The only way I can keep coming back to do this work is that at the end of every workday, I do something positive,” Says Siena Sanderson, Program Director for the Nurturing Center at Taos Behavioral Health. All the Nurturing Center staff do likewise. “We go to each of the families we are working with and take them some items that have been donated to us. Everything from plants to household goods to clothes, furniture. Our cars are delivery trucks!” states Sanderson. “But the families are intensely appreciative and then it makes it possible to go back to work the next day!” And we know that most of our families are too proud and depressed to ask for what they need.
Supporting real family needs: The Nurturing Center is supporting students and families from Enos Elementary and Peñasco Schools. One of the most difficult challenges is supporting the students who are receiving their education online. Often the broadband service just doesn’t reach their area. Other realities are a lack of computers –particularly when there are multiple students in the family—or parents/caretakers who are unable to decipher the assignments and homework to help the students. Sometimes the caretaker may not be English speaking or English literate and understanding the work is simply not possible.
Family realities: One of the staff commented that she was trying to help a single mother with a full-time job who had a 14-year-old and 2 elementary students at home. The teen was required to complete his own work and act as the teacher for his younger siblings—a situation full of stress and failure.
Another mother reported that her elementary son was so frustrated by work on the computer that he simply refused to even get on. He had not been present for online lessons since March.
Indicators of Stress: The Program Directors at TBH have reported that since the beginning of the Covid epidemic, they have seen a 100% increase in anxiety, an 80% increase in suicidal ideation, 90% increase in heightened depression and 100% increase in specific family violence/stressors. The need for some supportive alternative models for our clients seemed desperate.
An alternative Model: The TBH staff began serious discussions about locating a site where our youth clients could be safe, have access to computers, exercise and meals. We signed a lease with the Christian Academy—which has not been used for 2 years– and two weeks ago began serving 230 students in that environment.
They are organized in pods of 5 students with a TBH staff member, receive breakfast and lunch through the school foods program and are assisted in accessing their online instruction. The online access can be complicated even for the savviest computer user; after a 45 minutes lesson, the students are given homework to complete. All staff comment that there is simply too much homework for the students to complete.
This is a stopgap solution but shows that the community cares about its families. And as Sanderson comments, “What about the families who have lost jobs and do not have any children in school? What do we know about their needs?”
Family Stressors: When students do not get online with their teacher, the school tries to contact the families to identify the reason. No supervision? No internet? No communication with the school? It is often a combination of those—plus the deep economic stress in the community. The Nurturing Center sees a desperate need for money for families to pay electric bills and rent.
The national CARES program provides a moratorium from eviction due to lack of rental payments—but when it is over in December—the cumulative rent would be due—since it is NOT a rent forgiveness program. The families will still need support. The TBH staff knows that Taos county and town received $1.5 million in CARES money and would like to see a plan developed to support these real economic family needs.
Goals: Our students’ education is in real crisis. They cannot learn when emotional needs are not being met and the education delivery system is failing them. CEO Simon Torrez comments that “Our goal with the Pods program is to send them home with their homework completed.“
We need Taos to show creativity, compassion and kindness. We will continue to identify needs and inform you of ways that all of you might help.
Taos Behavioral Health has the largest staff of licensed and credentialed behavioral health professionals in Taos county. We can be reached at 575-758-4297, taosbehavioralhealth.org or at 105 Bertha for scheduled appointments.
Mary McPhail Gray is the Board chair of TBH and can be reached at 575-779-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.