Building Hope and Resilience for Students during COVID

Building Hope and Resilience for Students During COVID

What is solution-focused care?

Solution-focused Care is based on the rationale that there are usually solutions to every challenge. It is through the process of contemplating examples of these solutions where individuals develop a clearer ‘vision’ of their preferred future. We as ‘Helpers’ assist individuals we serve in care through a process of transformation. As agents for change, we assist in care planning which often revolves around building competencies that target areas of need for the person in care. However, it is essential that we develop an understanding of the underlying context of the behaviors and feelings connected. A fundamental understanding of the ‘why’ supports trauma-informed care. Trauma-informed care moves the field from asking “what is wrong with you?” toward asking “what happened to you?”

What builds resilience?

“I’m not sure if resilience is ever achieved alone. Experience allows us to learn from example. But if we have someone who loves us-I don’t mean who indulges us, but who loves us enough to be on our side-then it’s easier to grow resilience, to grow belief in self, to grow self-esteem. And it’s self-esteem that allows a person to stand up.” – Maya Angelou

How is the pandemic affecting students differently?


Where do we begin in response to understanding how the year+ long world-wide pandemic has impacted someone’s life? The first thing we need to do is recognize that “We are all in the same-boat” cliché is untrue as it relates to COVID-19. The reality is that we have all been in the ‘same-storm’ but we all have experienced it in different ‘boats.’

Some have been able to sail in a ‘yacht’ while many others have been tossed around in over-crowed row boats, with some just clinging to the side of the boat to keep their heads above water. It should be noted that there has always been a greater need for many children/youth, adults & families around the world. The pandemic has just highlighted inequities connected with these greater needs.

The ‘storm’ has resulted in increased stress for some caused by unemployment or under-employment, addiction, other home-life stressors, as well as increased community violence. If someone has the resources or financial means (in a yacht, sailboat or motorized boat) they may be able to manage the pressures more effectively or weather the storm of the pandemic.

Now, let us think of families who have limited financial means, who are impacted by poverty with larger families in small apartments/rooms/homes (in a rowboat without a motor or even oars). Think about how much may have changed for those who were struggling prior to this worldwide pandemic-what does their boat look like now? These are the factors that contribute to health disparities.

Are Children Experiencing a Systemic Intra-Functional Trauma (SIFT)?

I wrote a blog for the TCOM (CANS) Collaborative back in June of 2020- Post-COVID 19 Planning Strategy-As we SIFT through the impact of this worldwide traumatic event-We must support school-age children/youth towards HOPE. I discussed COVID as an event that had a beginning, a middle and an end point. What I now realize is that COVID is a Systemic Intra-Functional Trauma (SIFT), and it is more aligned with traumatic events or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) with longitudinal impact. When this event is viewed through a trauma-lens, our responses as Helping Staff should be to help people in care increase their protective factors and, ultimately, their hope.


We all need reassurance and support (children, youth, adults, families) as we navigate through the day-to-day struggles and rough waters. Let us start Empowering each other by Embracing Change, Engaging in Empathy and Equity. Since we know, “Health & wellness is not a destination but a journey” we can assist in supporting each other through this continued storm using four Strategies used by sailors in a storm-Listen, Observe, Assess and Engage. As the waters surge and the boats rock, it is our job as Helpers to support, reassure, reconnect, and provide HOPE!


A better understanding of our experiences will support healing and hope. First, we must remember that there was little to no warning leading up to the significant changes to everyday life. These extraordinary circumstances required schools’ superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and students to shift overnight as to learning online. Even though more than a year has passed, we are still facing challenges and the continued need to support each other.

Recognizing Trauma – Listening

As we’ve learned from an research study on ACES , early traumatic life events can have a tremendous impact on someone’s future physical, emotional and psychological health. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University building connections or connecting children with other people, schools and communities not only helps to build their support system but will support their development of resilience. The simple act of LISTENING to someone so that they can be both heard and understood can be paramount in managing the impact of ‘social distancing.’

Recognizing Trauma – Observing

After being home and ‘sheltered-in’, many students have disconnected socially with not only their peers but also with non-related adults. Active OBSERVATIONS of verbal and non-verbal interactions can give us a window on how they are expressing themselves. A possible outcome of social isolation may be the struggle to reconnect with others, including lack of eye contact, tone of voice and an overall change in body language/posture. When we see this change adults can support them with reassurance and patience. Modeling positive interactions and communication for our children/youth provides examples that can speak louder than most words we may use.

Recognizing Trauma – Assessing

If students and their families have experienced drastic changes in their lives, we must ASSESS specific needs – a valid and reliable communication tool used throughout the United States, Canada and the world is the Child Adolescent Needs & Strengths or CANS assessment. The CANS is an open domain and free to use multi-purpose tool developed for children’s services to support decision making, including level of care and service planning, to facilitate quality improvement initiatives, and to allow for the monitoring of outcomes of services. Since the CANS was developed from a communication perspective it is easy to use and understand which makes it well liked by youth, parents, providers and other partners including schools.

Addressing Trauma – Engaging

We must ENGAGE various stakeholders or systems throughout the restart Post COVID-19. There will be phases or stages outlined by local, state and federal departments-including education, health, legislative and public safety as we move beyond the sheltering in state where all have been for the past three months. A lack of communication would increase fear and strengthen the silos that society has fostered for many decades. Instead, we all must take a seat at the ‘table’ in order to prevent a disastrous outcome, not only including the resurgence of the virus but the ability to plan for everyone’s ‘new-normal’ to positively impact every home, school, community and the world.


This will be our starting point for intersecting mental health in the weeks, months and years ahead of us in the planning for a restart in a post-pandemic world. It will also increase everyone’s sense of hope. Somnieng Houren, a former Cambodian monk (Harvard University graduate) shares his personal story of survival, why he believes HOPE is the most powerful force in the world. Gaining optimism allows the human spirit to regain the ability to redefine our future. It is with this social-emotional reconnection that the seed of optimistic planning will take hold in coming to an understanding of the tremendous losses experienced by all people.

Four Sailing Strategies

These Four Sailing Strategies outline the steps for understanding and appreciating the situations or ‘boats’ individuals may be in during this impactful ‘storm’ we are all in. They can provide someone with a ‘life-jacket’ to make it through another day. However, many of us as Helpers want to accomplish much more than just a temporary solution in the lives of those we serve. The underlying need is to build resiliency (an oar or motor) while increasing health and wellness. How can this be effectively accomplished with everything continuing to unfold?

Changing Population Needs

At Opeeka, we help Helpers with the Four Sailing Strategies (Listen, Observe, Assess & Engage). One of the challenges that we face is that care systems are slow to adapt to changing population needs, and the Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything.

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