During the COVID-19 pandemic, Adler Community Health Services (ACHS) student interns provided both in-person and telehealth services to youth in the foster care system. The Chicago Campus students conduct therapy and behavioral health consults at Aunt Martha’s interim Care Center for youth who are in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
Continuing the Work In-person and Virtually
Before the pandemic, all interns were providing therapy on-site. As the virus spread, they each had to assess their personal situations and what would be best for them and their safety.
Two Clinical Psychology (Psy.D) students, Michelle Gad and Camille Liberatore were able to continue to see the youth in-person—and have helped connect their colleagues with the youth via telehealth.
“I had to make sure I felt safe enough to go on site,” Gad said. “There was a lot of talk with my supervisors who were super helpful and very understanding if I didn’t want to go to site, because they wanted me to take care of myself first.”
Gad said her supervisors helped her feel supported in the decision with an understanding that at any point if she did not feel safe, they would understand. Liberatore was in a similar situation.
They both chose to return to site.
“I had already made my decision to go back to site and when Michelle had made that decision as well, it solidified my decision,” Liberatore said. “We could be in this together and support each other—and support our peers who can’t be here.”
As site lead, Liberatore is responsible for overseeing externs and other interns, and was able to help guide them through the process. Together, the ACHS team quickly rolled out telehealth services, starting with phone calls and eventually adding video, to safely connect all ACHS interns with the youth.
Being there for the Youth
The ACHS students have continued to provide therapy and behavioral consultations for the youth individually. During the pandemic, assessment and group therapy has been on hold.
Whether in person or via telehealth, counseling the youth is especially important now, the students said.
“The youth are having a hard time,” Liberatore said. “These are youth who don’t live at home with their parents. Many of them have been in custody of DFCS since infancy.” Liberatore said the youth have lived in foster homes and residential facilities, and each of the youth has a complex history of trauma.
“They are also incredibly resilient,” Liberatore said. She added that the youth are seeking out and receiving a lot of support, especially during the pandemic.
“Seeing the staff, some of whom were there every single day, day in and day out, to provide the youth with care through everything happening in the world, has been really inspirational to me.”
Liberatore said the experience of counseling through the pandemic has shown her the importance of working to support others and promote mental health and well-being. “It’s a great reminder of how universal mental health is and that we need to be paying attention to it,” Liberatore said.
Counseling in a New Landscape
There have been some changes in the facility for those students working on-site, as more health precautions were put into place. Aunt Martha’s has been working to make the environment as safe as possible and have been transparent with the staff, they said.
“Everyone has to get their temperature checked on-site and are required to wear masks,” Gad said, who finished her practicum at the site in July. “The kids also have the option to wear a mask.”
Gad said part of the challenge was to figure out how to add some lightheartedness to the situation, including with fun masks and random dance parties. “Being back on site in this new environment, we had to figure out how we can still have fun with the youth,” Gad said.
Though some processes have changed, the connection with the youth and among ACHS staff remains.
“My experience at ACHS has been pretty wonderful,” Liberatore said. “What I really love about ACHS is it does feel like we are a team at all times. Even in the pandemic when we are not together physically, I still feel that sense of camaraderie.”
“I appreciate everything ACHS has done for me and it’s truly been an experience I will never forget,” Gad added. “With ACHS, you get a community feeling. Everyone is very supportive. It is a challenging environment, but one that has helped me grow personally and professionally.”