COVID-19 and the Head Start Community

Mental Health and Wellness

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the ways we live, work, and play. It also may have increased the exposure of children and families to stress, trauma, and substance use disorders. Head Start programs play a vital role in supporting the mental health and social and emotional wellness of children, families, and staff.

As programs continue to provide or transition back to in-person services, there may be questions about how to best support children, families, and staff. The good news is that best practice has not changed. The Head Start program’s long history of promoting wellness and supporting families through stress, trauma, and adversity continues to help us navigate this pandemic. Find key messages and resources below to understand stress and trauma and support resilience to promote healing and recovery.

Universal Messages

Promote nurturing and responsive relationships to support wellness and buffer any potential impacts of stress.

Prioritize staff wellness tools and activities so providers are able to support children and families in safe, responsive, and nurturing ways.

Utilize available infant and early childhood mental health consultants to support reflective practice and event processing for children, families, and staff.

Ensure predictable schedules and routines, clear expectations, and opportunities to identify, label, and work through feelings to help children and adults transition back to in-person services.

Establish new routines and structures as soon as possible when returning to in-person services. Be clear about what is the same as last time everybody was together and what’s new (e.g., wearing masks, temperature checks, sanitizing, physical distancing).

Understand that some populations have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Offer space for families and staff to share their experiences and let this inform plans to return to or continue in-person services.

Intentionally check in with all families about any challenging circumstances or safety concerns (e.g. substance use, domestic violence, etc.) as they continue with or transition back to in-person services.

Encourage parents to engage in self-care practices to promote their own wellness and prevent more significant difficulties from arising. When appropriate, refer families to mental health treatment to help process current or past events that may be impacting their ability to cope.