Fear and Anxiety Calmed for Students Thanks to United Way Funded Counsellor

EditedVert.jpgWe are living through extraordinary times where no one is sure what’s going to happen.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused stress and fear for all of us, but for those of us who aren’t yet in control of our lives, that anxiety can be particularly strong. Especially so for youth back in school.

Students and their parents are all in need of support right now. One way they are getting it is through a United Way-funded counsellor in Port Alberni.

Working out of a wing of the Alberni District Secondary School, and available by phone from her home, Sandra Karlsen has been continued her conversations with youths grade 8-12 and their parents for much of the summer and is there for them now that school is back in session.

Karlsen began her work as a counsellor last September and has seen a significant shift in what youths need, and her role.

“Last year, the youths were talking about what was going on with their schooling, their home life, what they were experiencing and how can we work together to get them through school. Like coming to school every day, getting a hot meal, getting clean clothes, that kind of thing,” said Karlsen.

“And this year, it’s supporting parents to support kids to go to school. Families finding themselves in crisis and not knowing how to deal with stuff and how to navigate and to stop and process information. Because they are all in this heightened state, especially back in, the uncertainty, right? That’s at the forefront for everybody right now.”

But Karlsen was able to be there for students and parents over much of the summer, reaching out to students and speaking with parents by phone. With experience as a social worker, Karlsen was able to help parents navigate government support systems, and make sure families had access to the programs they needed to get by when jobs were lost.

And while Karsen said this summer did offer parents and their kids a chance to reconnect with each other, that wasn’t always easy. In a few cases, it was dangerous.

“As a social worker, it used to be really good because if you knew there were kids at risk, you knew they were at school or in daycare – there was always eyes on them. But now they are home and they are in isolation, there is that risk of not being able to reach out for services or help that they need, so they are always kind of flying under the radar. So that is absolutely worrisome.”

But Karlsen has been that connection for kids in crisis.

“I’ve intervened and reported to the ministry a couple of times, just because of the conversations I’ve had with kids. But I’ve also advised them that I’m going to contact the social worker and that it is in their best interest to interact with the worker to keep them safe.

“It’s that whole changing the perception of social workers: that they are there to work with the family and support the family.”

As families navigate the school year, Karlsen has been there to calm fears and get families mentally prepared. And she’ll continue to be there for them throughout the school year.

It’s donations to United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island that have made this program, and many others in your community possible.  Giving to United Way is the best way to make sure your donation goes to the most effective and needed programs where you live.

United, we can all be there for each other, and make sure students and their families can overcome fear and arrive at their future.

If you can, please consider donating to United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island, and help your community.