Mental health check-ins added to summer camp routines

  • In this undated photo released by Camp Kiwanis, a lifeguard chair stands as the sun sets on Mill Dam Lake in the Ocala National Forest, where Camp Kiwanis has hosted local children since 1948 near Ocala, Fla. Camp Kiwanis will not open this summer for the first time in 72 years due to concerns about spread of the novel coronavirus. Camps across the U.S. are scrambling to make a similar decision about summer 2020 and parents are getting a first wave of closure notices for some camps in harder-hit states. (Scott Mitchell/Camp Kiwanis via AP) Scott Mitchell

Monitor staff
Published: 6/30/2021 4:35:06 PM

For New Hampshire kids, this year’s summer camp experience could include nature hikes, swimming and arts and crafts  – and one-on-one session with a mental health professional.

Mental health centers around the state will be offering services to camps and daycare centers this summer, after concerns about the mental and behavioral health of youth and children have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The effort, funded by federal COVID-19 response dollars, is a partnership between the New Hampshire Department of Education and the Community Behavioral Health Association.

Melissa Colby, children’s program director at Riverbend Community Mental Health, said she has been seeing children with more mental health needs than usual this year, many of whom are receiving mental health treatment for the first time. She chalks it up to the social isolation and disruption of normal routine many students experienced when the COVID-19 pandemic led to school closures and hybrid and remote instruction models.

“This past year, as we've seen, has been a challenge for kids in terms of their support systems, not being at school consistently, the general schedule, family systems have been more stressed which has a trickle-down effect on the kids,” Colby said. “All of that has had a pretty big impact.”

At camps throughout Merrimack County, Riverbend staff members will give mental health trainings to adult counselors and teenage counselors-in-training, teaching them how to recognize impacts of different traumas and how to intervene if they see a child struggling. They also plan to have a Riverbend staff member present at the camp who can do one-on-one sessions with children who need it.

The list of Concord camps who will use the service hasn’t yet been determined, since Riverbend is still in the process of reaching out to camp directors. Other community health centers are doing the same in other counties.

Colby said she hopes the initiative will make camps more accessible to students who struggle with behavioral health, as well as make behavioral health services more accessible to kids during the summer.

“Summer is a time when, as a mental health center, we see fewer kids, kids are off doing their own thing so there isn't that consistency with school,” Colby said. “The fact that kids have more access to summer camps, do activities, be with their peer groups, is more vital this year. It’s more important than it’s ever been.”

Jodie Lubarsky, Child, Adolescent and Family Services Director with Seacoast Mental Health Center said bringing mental and behavioral health services to summer camps is also a way to remove barriers for children in accessing those types of services.

“The partnership will allow us to work with New Hampshire’s children in a variety of settings offering supports while demonstrating the importance of access to prosocial, recreational activities to support the social and emotional needs of youth after a very challenging year and a half,” Lubarsky said.  “I am hopeful we will end the summer with successful takeaways that can be sustained for years to come.”

The mental health initiative is part of a larger program New Hampshire’s Department of Education started this year to encourage low-income kids and kids with disabilities to participate in summer camps. The program, called “Rekindling Curiosity: Every Kid Goes to Camp,” offers tuition support to get make outdoor social activities more accessible. 

In the program, students with disabilities can get $650 in camp fees covered, students from families earning less than 250% federal poverty level can get $500 and students from families earning less than 400% federal poverty level can get $350.

“In spite of the heroic efforts by so many over this past year, so many children across New Hampshire have experienced anxiety and trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic,” New Hampshire education commissioner Frank Edelblut said in a statement. “The Rekindle Curiosity program will simply give many of our children the opportunity to be a kid again and build some childhood memories.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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