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CALM: Uptick in requests for service, developmental delays linked to remote learning and isolation

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A somber new trend surfaced months into the school year. Now, with schools closed for the Winter Holiday season, there's concern the reason for that trend could take hold again.

It is a story we've been following in the NewsChannel 3-12 newsroom for the past 22 months.

Local family advocates say students spent the past four months "unpacking," sharing stories of pandemic life behind closed doors. Therapists are among those hearing first-hand tales of depression and abuse.

Therapists at CALM, which stands for Child Abuse Listening Mediation, say the Santa Barbara nonprofit is experiencing a 50 percent increase in requests for service, more than any year before.

"CALM exists because we know every home is not safe for every child," said Alana Walczak, CALM's President and CEO. "We're just hearing more and more what happened when kids were really trapped behind closed doors. Teachers weren't seeing them, pediatricians weren't seeing them. And now, those stories are coming out." 

"We've seen a pretty significant increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety," said Rachel Brewer, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist at CALM. "The impact has been far and wide reaching."

CALM works with more than 75 partner agencies, including schools and law enforcement. Walczak said when necessary, their findings are passed on to child welfare services to investigate.

"Sadly, we're also seeing a tremendous increase in severity of trauma, domestic violence, child abuse, physical/sexual/emotional abuse – it's all rising. And it's rising at a staggering pace," said Walczak.

Both experts said other trends directly linked to more than a year of remote-learning started surfacing in the Fall; social, emotional issues and behaviors.

"We're seeing developmental delays because if you think about it, a third grader now this school year, their last normal school year was kindergarten," said Walczak. "When you think about a sixth grader, their last year of normalcy was third grade."

"It's kind of had a lasting impact on their ability to engage, their ability to kind of recall those social skills," said Brewer. 

Sibling conflict – sometimes turning violent – is another trend CALM therapists are seeing.

"I think the growing levels of violence, they're manifesting both within the home but also in the community," said Wilczak.

The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury recently released its report on impacts of remote learning on young students. Experts stressed that all districts should be focusing on "the emotional state of their students."

CALM is right there in the mix, helping.

In the meantime, Brewer offered a couple of parenting tips to help children cope with stress and anxiety linked to pandemic-related challenges.

"One of the biggest gifts that you can give your child is going to be is actually listening to them," said Brewer. "That sounds too simple but the key is to actively listen. Just because we're the grownups does not mean that we are the experts on that kiddo's situation. We are responsible for helping them learn and grow in the environment that they are in, but they know what's going on inside their mind, inside their bodies. They can be the expert and they can share that with us and we can work alongside them."

Walczak offered a direct message to viewers:

"For children or teens who might be watching or listening, knowing that it's OK not to be OK. And, it's OK to reach out for help and it's OK to talk to your friends, family and sometimes you need a professional."

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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about Beth, click here

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