3 Ways to Support the Entire Family During School Closure and COVID-19

By: Danielle Castonzo

In March, Marline, a single mother of four children, moved out of her one-bedroom apartment in Uptown. Her rent had increased, and she was not able to make the payments on her minimum wage salary.

When COVID-19 shelter in place began, her hours were cut at the fast food restaurant where she works, from 5 to 3 days a week. A balance of $500 was still due on her security deposit.

Marline shared her lease and landlord’s contact information with Christopher House staff, who made a $500 payment directly to the landlord. The payment kept Marline and her four children in good standing and allowed her to save for next month’s rent and purchase essential resources like food, medicine, and cleaning products to prepare for COVID-19.

With the closure of schools and businesses due to COVID-19, low-income families—like Marline and her children—face unemployment, food insecurity, and anxiety. Although COVID-19 has been an unprecedented challenge, Christopher House’s two-generation approach and longstanding relationships with families have allowed staff and teachers to stay connected to parents and scholars and ensure their needs are being met.

Christopher House provides a high-quality continuum of education, from six weeks through the eighth grade, paired with support services for each child’s family. Each family is provided an assigned family advocate, and receives access to parent education workshops, on-site food pantries, social workers, and counseling.

As scholars are enrolled in our schools for more than ten years, Christopher House staff foster meaningful, trusting, and longstanding relationship with parents. Not only do teachers understand their scholars’ unique strengths and challenges, they get to know each scholar’s home life—which allows them to meet the needs of the entire family.

“Christopher House has a department created to build and maintain relationships with families so that they can get the support that they need,” Rachel Cope, Christopher House Social Worker, said. “That’s what makes the difference.”

Christopher House is proud to share some best practices that have allowed staff to support parents and families through COVID-19:

  • Ensure parents and children receive emotional support during this stressful time. Christopher House social workers are conducting weekly wellness calls with scholars and families in their caseloads and have created a hotline that families can call for free tele-counseling. Social workers maintain consistency with scholars on their caseload by scheduling calls at the same time each week on video chat. They also stay in touch through weekly motivational text messages and hand-written notes.
  • Provide essential resources needed to achieve stability at home. Christopher House parents remain in near-constant contact with their family advocates, who ensure they have access to food, medicine, and other resources. Staff also host a weekly diaper pick-up at our three locations. Christopher House has partnered with Lakeview Food Pantry to provide food to families, and 55 parents are signed-up to participate in a weekly one-hour Zoom workshop on best parenting skills, which will be offered in English and Spanish.
  • Stay connected through technology. Christopher House staff and teachers remain connected to parents and scholars through the Remind App, social media, video chat and Google Classrooms. Staff and teachers use these platforms to share—in English and Spanish—COVID-19 developments, resources to navigate challenges like food insecurity or unemployment, and mental health tips and resources from our social workers. Social workers have also shared resources for talking about COVID-19 with children, such as online picture books.

As our social worker Rachel reiterated, during this overwhelming time, our established and longstanding relationship with families have made all the difference:

“If they’re in crisis, they’re not going to just reach out to a stranger,” she said. “But if they know that person and that person has helped them in the past, they’re going to be more likely to seek support.”