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The pandemic’s impact on children’s “social skills” a concern in Wisconsin

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 7:02 PM CST
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Wis. (WBAY) -- Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General declared “Youth Mental Health” as a national crisis. As we enter the third year of the pandemic, Wisconsin’s Office of Children’s Mental Health Professionals is detailing trends among children that are heading in the wrong direction.

“Electronics use was up, and that’s going in the wrong direction, which is especially concerning since this data is before the pandemic when kids were at home and having virtual school,” said Linda Hall, Director of Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health.

Hall said there’s even been a decline in children’s social skills.

“This isn’t just about kids being able to chat after school or be the most popular person at a party. These social skills are critical for developing trusting relationships that are key to learning and belonging,” said Hall.

“School connectedness shows the pre-pandemic drop in school belonging. This was already a challenge for schools and for children before the disruption of the virtual school and COVID quarantine, so this is very concerning,” said Hall.

Hall said these statistics don’t just demonstrate how the pandemic has impacted kids, but it may even say more about how it’s impacted families.

“In the first few months of 2021 about 40% of Wisconsin families with children reported losing employment income due to the pandemic,” said Hall. “Throughout the pandemic, Black and Latinx families have been generally more affected than white families.”

For 10-15 percent of those families, they reported little to no confidence in their ability to pay next month’s rent of mortgage.

“Parental stress is another critical factor because when parents are stressed, kids pick up on it and often become more anxious,” said Hall.

The ripple effect doesn’t stop there as the need for mental health professionals also continued to grow. “Fortunately we have people realizing that this is an important issue to address. So in some ways, there are more children reaching out for help and that’s a good thing. We need to figure out how do we respond to all of this increased demand,” said Hall.

The Howard Suamico School District is holding a community event Wednesday, January 19, at its district office to help parents identify warning signs of mental health struggles in kids and where they can turn for help. The meeting is from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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