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Helping Children and Families Thrive During COVID-19

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Sarah Satterwhite

Senior Editor, Strategic Content and Storytelling

Announcement  •

Children and families are meeting every morning – virtually – for a massive dance party. A children’s book author reads a book and leads related discussions and art lessons on Thursdays. More than 450 mental health practitioners gathered for a telehealth training on a recent Friday.

Children, families, mental health experts and the broader community are finding social support resources during physical distancing and COVID-19, thanks to DU’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology, University Libraries and the philanthropists whose generosity has fueled these innovative programs.

The daily dance party as well as daily live-music singalongs bring the experts of GSPP and the Fisher Early Learning Center into the homes of hundreds of families each day. Through these interactions, families can build community and find social support during a time of no in-person gatherings. In addition, the GSPP Caring for You and Baby (CUB) Clinic team is partnering with Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus to offer their WePlay infant and parent play group content virtually. The CUB Clinic’s expertise allowed a nimble transition to online programming during Colorado’s stay-at-home order. Taylor Kirkpatrick (IMBA '04), made many of these CUB Clinic offerings a reality through a gift to GSPP, and now his generosity is making a tremendous difference for the wider community during this time of crisis.

“My goal as a strategic philanthropist is to find forward-thinking, creative, and innovative programs and leverage my support and resources on their chassis of expertise,” said Kirkpatrick. “The CUB Clinic, DU Libraries, and the like have compounded my investment by creating meaningful societal impact that is socially relevant and responsive, particularly in these challenging times.”

GSPP Event
A young girl poses during the storytime event with author Marianne Richmond last October.

Also an offshoot of the CUB Clinic and made possible by Kirkpatrick’s generosity, is the CUB Lifelong Learning Event Series. This program brings children’s book authors to the University of Denver campus so children and families can participate in story time and conversations with the author and Tracy Vozar, director of the CUB Clinic, about the benefits of reading with children.

“Just as with everything in this ever-changing environment, we’ve had to pivot a bit – in a way that I think will make a difference for families stuck at home,” said Michael Levine-Clark, dean of University Libraries. “I’m thrilled we were able to move from the originally intended author events in the Anderson Academic Commons, and that we are now rolling out weekly programming for families providing an opportunity to keep little kids engaged and learning, and a sense of a weekly routine.”

During COVID-19 physical distancing, the CUB Lifelong Learning Series is going online, letting children and families participate in a Creative Corner with children’s book author Marianne Richmond. Each Thursday in April, the event showcases reading and discussion, as well as a guided art lesson and writing prompt. These interactive events will also feature insight and discussion with Vozar.

“The CUB Clinic’s overarching goal is to meet the needs of families in innovative ways that reduce barriers to accessing services,” said Vozar, who is also director of GSPP’s Infant & Early Childhood Mental Health Specialty. “COVID-19 and social distancing create perhaps the most intense barrier we have encountered, thus far, and that took some ingenuity and flexibility to respond to. I’m proud that our CUB Clinic team responded with compassion, creativity, and committed action, resulting in a timely response with multiple levels of service offerings – some pre-existing and many developed specific to our current circumstances.”

Through Parentline Colorado, GSPP provides direct therapy to families and gives professional development training to mental health experts. Parentline Colorado is a telehealth platform funded by Constellation Philanthropy, and Kirkpatrick played a key role in connecting Constellation Philanthropy with DU. Even during non-pandemic times, telehealth reduces barriers to therapy as it increases the time and geographic flexibility that young families need to access therapy. While in-person options are suspended, the telehealth model is ever more vital, and GSPP is increasing the availability of therapy for families in Colorado.

GSPP started Parentline Colorado last year, and that experience is enabling the use of the platform to train hundreds of mental health professionals in the ways that they can bring their services online. Constellation Philanthropy’s original gift is now making an exponential impact, giving psychologists, social workers, and other professionals the tools they need to make their services available to their communities while in-person services are suspended.

“These past weeks have been challenging, quickly evolving, and stressful,” said Shelly Smith-Acuna, dean of GSPP. “We are proud to provide leadership in mental health and wellbeing and put our knowledge of psychology to work in the world in a time where it is increasingly relevant and vital. Taylor’s generosity – along with the support of many others in our community – is what makes this possible. As we transition into this new virtual space, with plenty of unknowns that lie ahead, we serve as a resource to our community. We will continue to find helpful ways that we can come alongside our community members and overcome challenges that coincide with this pandemic.”

Visionary philanthropy at the University of Denver makes a difference in countless ways – for our students, faculty and community. During this time of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, it also provides the fuel for DU’s innovation and expertise to reach exponentially more people through online programming that is informed by faculty expertise and grounded in research.

Learn more about the resources that GSPP is providing to the community and to mental health professionals during the pandemic.