The daily routines, activities, and socialisation of every family in South Africa are changing fast due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Parents suddenly have to balance working from home, minding children and ensuring hygiene practices to help fight the spreading of the virus.
Social media is showcasing the distress and coping strategies of adults in the number of comments, conversations, likes, and sharing of posts relating to the coronavirus.
Many of us experienced a distressing thought or a chuckle over the posts received in the past week. However, we remain hopeful and find positive ways to cope with the situation.
Nevertheless, the impact on families with children experiencing developmental delays, neurodevelopmental disorders and physical disabilities will be greater.
According to Hanlie Degenaar, a speech-language therapist at the North-West University’s (NWU’s) Institute of Psychology and Wellbeing (IWP), these families are already facing financial constraints, lack of appropriate day care, social and educational inclusion challenges, as well as limited access to intervention resources.
“Families such as these are the most vulnerable to experiencing distress, anxiety, and feelings of despair due to a significantly increased burden of care. Supporting parents during the trying times ahead is critical to the well-being of these families,” says Hanlie.
“One concern for parents is continuing the therapeutic support for their children and themselves. Parents voiced their fear that a substantial effort to help their children overcome development challenges will be lost if regular contact sessions cannot be maintained.”
She adds that concerned parents can be assured that research is confirming the effectiveness of parent-implemented intervention for communication, cognitive and behavioural challenges in children’s development. Neuroscientific evidence is proving that simple practices such as back-and-forth parent-child communication, family routines, shared reading, being active together, and looking after the well-being of parents are critical to the development and well-being of children.
“It is exciting that these practices protect the developing brain of children in any challenging context and require minimal resources. Parent-implemented intervention is also well-suited to telepractice, and effective models for service delivery have been described in scientific literature and evidence-based practice guidelines. This approach to intervention can alleviate the current parental distress and maintain hope in vulnerable families,” says Hanlie.
Parent-implemented intervention implies parent coaching and training strategies, where the family is the client. The therapist is primarily focused on parent training and support while setting up play activities for daily home routines and activities. Naturalistic learning is the essence of this approach, which requires fewer contact sessions, while substantially increasing and extending the intervention opportunities at home.
Hanlie says parent-implemented intervention enhances the quality of the child’s experiences in the family and steers the trajectory for future health and well-being. A clinician-implemented intervention approach generally implies that the child is the client, and the clinician is involved hands-on with the child. The parent is a secondary agent of change, who may or may not be present to observe the intervention and has to practise the session activities at home according to the instructions of the clinician. Following a clinician-implemented approach may not be possible now when society has to adhere to national health regulations for our safety.
Care2Kids, a specialised multidisciplinary intervention service for children at the IPW, mainly focuses on a parent-implemented intervention approach.
“The Care2Kids team is acutely aware of the impact of social isolation and other regulations on the families they serve. The importance of staying connected with families, continuing intervention, maintaining family activities, and nurturing positive attitudes is a pressing priority for the team, since enquiries and requests from families have exponentially increased,” says Hanlie.
In compliance with international standards, the infrastructure at the IPW offers secure video conferencing and recording facilities. The Care2Kids team has been utilising telematic parent training and coaching to enhance their service delivery to distant or challenged families they serve. They compiled a hybrid parent/caregiver training and coaching procedural framework for telepractice by reviewing the scientific literature and evidence-based practice guidelines to ensure high-quality and ethical delivery.
The Care2Kids team realises that expanding their online service is critical to managing the expectations of families utilising their services and maintaining a high standard of client care.
Parental well-being is critical to maintaining stability in the family home. Parental well-being and support are also vital to containing fears children may have when overhearing adults in conversation.
“There is global recognition that playful touching and talking and interactive family activities are essential to meet all children’s emotional needs and strengthen neural connections in the brain during this challenging time. Online parent-implemented intervention currently provides the best opportunity for parents to get support, alleviate family distress, and continue with the intervention with their child,” Hanlie says, and the Care2Kids team agrees.
The IPW, including the Care2Kids team, is focused on utilising their experience with the online resources available to them to support families in the best way possible. Parents can contact the IPW by emailing IPWinfo@nwu.ac.za or calling 018 299 1737.