Fairfax-Falls Church CSB working to fill vacancies, meet needs

In a Face The Nation broadcast, CBS News National and International Correspondent Jan Crawford brought up the conversation of the biggest underreported story in 2021 was the devastating impact of COVID policies on children, saying that “They will be paying for our generation’s decisions the rest of their lives.”

It has been almost two years since the COVID-19 pandemic first started to affect the United States, and with that, students at all levels are feeling isolated and depressed. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State, loneliness and isolation are the top concerns of college students who have gotten counseling during the pandemic. 

At the primary and secondary levels in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), school social workers or psychologists are available to help with emotional and behavioral issues. School social workers help to prevent social, emotional, and behavioral factors from affecting a student’s ability to perform at his or her best according to FCPS. School psychologists are mental health specialists with knowledge of child development, the psychology of learning, behavior management and intervention, monitor the progress of students, and program evaluation according to FCPS. 

Mental health issues have been a rising concern for FCPS, and in the 2019-2020 Fairfax County Youth Survey, more than one-third of students reported experiencing a high level of stress in the past month, with female students being much more likely to report experiencing a high level of stress. Three in 10 students reported sad or hopeless feelings for two or more weeks in the past year that they stopped doing regular activities, and this statistic has been increasing steadily since 2016. One in seven students reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with 6 percent of students attempting it in the past year. More than 33,000 students were surveyed in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades for this data; no survey was conducted for the 2020-2021 school year because of remote learning preventing students in the classroom.

Cindy Lang Walsh, parent and author of “Breaking the Autism Code”, is helping other parents cope with shutdowns in FCPS, “I’m informally helping other parents with coping with the shutdown and trying to fix a broken system that doesn’t prepare special needs kids.” said Walsh. 

She also is advocating for help after graduation in the school system after the loss of her son, “My son killed himself in June. He had therapists in the school system and suddenly had nothing as a graduate.”

Meanwhile, at the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, there are 175 vacancies in addition to 2,400 statewide positions among the Commonwealth’s Community Services Board. Fairfax-Falls Church CSB helps with youths seeking treatment in the area, with those conditions rising from the pandemic, and are helping fewer youths with these vacancies. 

“Due to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among staff, a high number of vacancies, increasing healthcare regulations and staff burnout and to ensure appropriate staffing coverage, the Fairfax-Falls Church CSB has implemented temporary staffing adjustments to ensure we maintain the highest level of service possible to our community while balancing personnel challenges,” said Lisa Flowers, public information officer for the CSB. “Last week, 45 employees tested positive for COVID-19 and we have 175 vacancies.” 

Flowers noted that the pandemic has affected children and youth the most, “The rise in COVID-19 cases and staffing shortages are being seen within our most vulnerable population — children and youth. Increased isolation can result in depression, anxiety, substance use, and suicide. The CSB has a waiting list of 92 youth, of whom 21 are in Spanish-speaking families. Many private safety net providers have waiting lists of 15 to over 150 youth, with typical waiting times of one to two months.”

The CSB is implementing several steps to address their recruiting, hiring and retention challenges, according to Daryl Washington, executive director. “Everyone is feeling the impact of COVID-19 and staffing shortages. We’re committed to ongoing recruitment and retention efforts to be able to continue to provide the highest quality behavioral health services to the communities we serve, especially our children and youth population,” said Washington. “We appreciate the support and patience of the individuals we serve and their families, our residents and visitors. We want to return to normal operations as quickly and safely as possible.”

 The youth mental crisis continues during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issuing an advisory warning of a mental health crisis, “It would be a tragedy if we beat back one health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place.”

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