One night a few years ago, we were at our local park watching our boys’ baseball games. It was a divide-and-conquer night: one parent and grandparent at the big kid game, the others at the t-ball field.
When we arrived, the skies were clear, but before long dark clouds rolled in. What happened next was straight out of the movie, “Twister.” The winds picked up, taking the sand from the fields with it. Moments later, everyone was running to their vehicles. Kids and elderly grandparents struggled to keep up and families like ours were desperately trying to reach family members across the park.
It was one of the scarier moments of our lives, and luckily, we made it home unharmed. Hunkered in the basement that evening, I realized our family had no emergency disaster plan in place. No go bags, meet-up location, emergency supplies, or code words if we were separated. I never taught my boys first aid or CPR. We would be in real trouble in a worse emergency.
Over the next few months, we made plans, practiced, and invested in some essentials. We have a way to go, but our family is a lot better off than we were that day.
Today we face a different type of storm. This is not one that downs trees and buildings, but it is one that can takedown kids and families. America’s pediatricians have declared what parents have known for some time: our children’s mental health is in crisis. It is a national emergency.
This storm hit our family last year. Soon after Halloween, our son suddenly developed full-blown OCD symptoms (sharing with his permission). The next few months were a blur of trying to navigate pandemic parenting, while also getting him the care he needed. Due to Covid, everything had to be done remotely.
My husband and I were fortunate to have reliable internet, digital devices, resourceful friends, and social work backgrounds. Even with those things in place, it was still hard. We needed to find a therapist skilled at dealing with OCD and children. The best options were in the nearest city, which is physically close but across state lines. Insurance wouldn’t cover the costs. I stayed up late at night trying to understand what was happening to my child and figuring out what to do next. I left messages with therapists and was put on waiting lists. Everyone seemed maxed out. Finally, someone called us back. She didn’t take our insurance, but she knew someone in our state who might.
At the same time, we decided to look for a child psychiatrist. Just in case. I called every place I could, including the local Children’s Hospital. Everyone was booked for a year or more. With exception to the hospital, all were private pay. The hospital would take our insurance, but they wouldn’t see our kid. They were only seeing children for autism evaluations, or those coming through the emergency room.
At that moment, our child was in crisis, and we were forced to navigate without forethought or a plan, during what was already a complicated time. This is the storm every parent in America must be ready for.