Social workers in Chesapeake Public Schools adapt with pandemic

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Posted at 4:38 AM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 09:14:18-04

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - From helping kids access internet to finding stable housing for families, Jane Dowdell has done it all.

"We address things like homelessness, behavioral needs [and] mental health needs," Dowdell, a school social worker with Chesapeake Public Schools, said.

Dowdell said the pandemic has been challenging.

"I think initially for us when we went out on the full school closure, we had a lot of kids just seemingly disappear, because virtually I think we didn't realize that a lot of people don't have access to internet," she said. "We were just trying to figure out, 'Where have these kids gone? How can we reach them?'"

She said some kids didn't have access to internet, while others went to live with nearby family members for financial reasons.

Adapting quickly to meet the needs of the students, social workers in the district have spent the past year or so making long phone calls and holding socially-distant meetings outside.

"[There were some kids] who we were worried about previously [due to] safety or custody issues going on, so [even with the pandemic] it's really required us to maintain that constant communication," she said.

Though much different from a sit-down home visit, Dowdell said these check-ins are vital.

"We're kind of that liaison to figure out what's going on; how can we meet the need; how can we get like your whole life to come together and you start seeing success as an individual or as a family," Dowdell said.

Throughout the school year, students are given services on a case-by-case basis.

Dowdell said, "People may think that when social workers are involved, it's really negative - you've done something wrong; we're here to punish you - but really, social workers are here to listen and help and build you back to where you want to be."

They address bullying, behavioral difficulties and everything in between.

With the pandemic adding extra strain on students' mental health and parents, social workers' guidance is only becoming more important.

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