The coronavirus health crisis has created acute new challenges for families, especially for ones already under stress. It has also challenged home visitors working to support those families. But home visitors are adapting and flexing in innovative ways, and in the process a new hybrid model of home visiting is emerging. It’s one that uses technology to facilitate personal connections and maintain a support network.
What’s Happening in Home Visiting?
Virtual home visits, video meetings; new routines; even virtual bedtime stories. It’s a new world that’s requiring home visitors to tap reserves of creativity and flexibility because having normal work routines disrupted is difficult for home visitors.
Managers of home visiting teams see this and tell us that they’re taking extra steps to connect their teams together for mutual support and they’re encouraging individuals to practice self-care. One said we’ve got to “normalize that there’s going to be feelings of fear and anxiety and a little bit of depression, because it’s scary right now.”
Supervisors realize that if they can diffuse the concerns within their team, it’s going to benefit families. “How we treat each other on the team is going to affect how we treat the families. The more support that I give to my team…that trickles down to the families.”
Concern for the emotional and mental health of home visitors is getting renewed attention in this time of heightened stress. One supervisor says that not having the comradery of office work removes one of the supports that home visitors used to have. And she’s having to adapt to that.
“So on an administrative level, we check in with everybody at least weekly, but we’ve created little virtual spaces where everybody can check in. Then we definitely encourage everybody to check in with each other too.”
Home Visitors are Adapting
Technology has become essential in making and maintaining connections with families. Because of social distancing, home visitors have to connect with their families by phone or with virtual meetings. Home visitors report that the transition to telehealth was difficult in the beginning because the remote conferencing technology was new to many and work routines had to change.
One home visitor says, “I think the initial shock of transitioning from working in an office to working at home was probably the hardest step for everybody.”
As time has gone on, it’s clear teams are adjusting. One supervisor says, “What has been nice is, what I thought that would be the biggest hurdle- adaptability- has been our biggest strength so far.”
The support that home visitors provide is more important than ever because families face such acute need. But one side effect of this situation is that some home visitors report that they’re able to build relationships faster.
One said, “Before it really took a long time to build that relationship in person. I think because we’re going through this shared crisis experience, it’s really opened them up to say like, ‘Hey I do need help to get my needs met…and I’m going to share that with somebody who might be able to help me.’”
What’s Next in Home Visiting?
How long will social distancing be required? When will face-to-face meetings return? These questions are hard to answer and some changes may be permanent.
One home visitor says, “I’m not sure that we’ll ever get back to a state of the normalcy that everybody thinks as normal from before this pandemic. I’m very cautious to move forward in a way that’s going to be safe for our families and for staff. I know that in the future even little things like our parent education group are probably going to look different, because we don’t want to put anybody at risk and we wouldn’t want to increase exposure to this illness.”
Flexibility will be a core feature any new hybrid approach.
Says one home visitor, “If the team members are getting flexibility from the program, they’re going to allow for a lot of flexibility for the family… so much flexibility is needed, so much empathy and understanding is needed.”
There’s an emerging realization that technology can offer this type of flexibility and unforeseen new benefits. When asked about continuing to use technology after the pandemic, one supervisor said, “It could expand our services in different ways that we never anticipated them to expand. It might open up different opportunities for the parents. It could also open up different opportunities for staff to connect to families.”
Heading Towards a Hybrid Solution
At Advanced Metrics, we see an adaptable, hybrid solution emerging for home visiting. This model uses telehealth initiatives, coupled with a secure web-based software technology, to promote personal connections, not impede them. It also offers solutions for data collection that can be used in the office, at home or in the field. The goal is to enable home visitors to keep open lines of communication even when in-person visits are impossible. It can also knit teams together for smooth collaboration.
People are already beginning to talk about how remote engagement using web-based solutions for data collection will be a vital component of new home visiting solutions. This hybrid model of services delivery can safeguard service delivery during poor weather or in the event of future illness. It can also solve scheduling challenges, and create connections with individuals in rural environments or in isolated areas.
Remote, or telehealth, home-visiting services will never fully replace in person home visiting services, but new hybrid solutions will enable our front-line heroes to continue to support families and strengthen communities during challenging times. And we’re excited to contribute to the development of these new hybrid solutions.