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Local experts discuss how COVID-19 has impacted children's mental health in Missouri

September 10, 2021
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September 10, 2021

Jefferson City, MO - Earlier this week, the Missouri Local Science Engagement Network hosted a roundtable discussion focused on student mental health as students across the state return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic. The panel featured Mr. Chris Horn (Columbia Public Schools, Board Member), Dr. Sarah Soden (Director of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Health at Children’s Mercy Kansas City), and Dr. Colleen Colaner (Communications Professor at University of Missouri).

A recording of the discussion can be viewed at the following link: https://mostpolicyinitiative.org/event/back-to-school-during-a-pandemic-student-mental-health/

Key themes arose as the panelists explored current trends and challenges for today's K-12 students returning to the classroom. Families on the margins have been particularly impacted by the pandemic and research shows that trauma is cumulative for children – the more traumatic events a child has to deal with, the greater the lifelong impact. Thus, marginalized students are particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.

According to Dr. Soden, the best things adults can do are listen and create a safe, accepting space for children to share and express themselves. Dr. Colaner added that adults should separate behavior from emotions. It is important to validate emotions that children are feeling, but some behaviors can be inappropriate responses to emotions. Adults must balance giving children information, but also keeping stress at bay to allow children to feel safe and comfortable.

Finally, the panelists commented on the interaction between researchers and policymakers when it comes to making decisions to support students during this time. First, data is limited by the lack of diversity in research studies, thus researchers should make inclusive study design a priority and acknowledge that we may not have information that fits every student, particularly for underrepresented students. Mr. Horn commented that pre-established partnerships between the research and policymaking communities are really important for making evidence-based decisions and have been key for the collaborative approach taken by Columbia Public Schools over the past year.

About the Missouri Local Science Engagement Network:
The Missouri Local Science Engagement Network, a program of MOST Policy Initiative, seeks to build a network of scientists and researchers around Missouri interested in elevating science in policy discussions at the state and local levels. MOST Policy Initiative works collaboratively with policymakers and the scientific community to determine priority topics and identify knowledge gaps. We do not offer unsolicited scientific advice to lawmakers. Rather, we take requests for information from lawmakers through the Missouri Science & Technology Policy Fellows Program. When working with scientists, we encourage them to build relationships with elected officials and leaders to understand where science can most effectively inform policy discussions.


Media Contact:
Brittany Whitley
Executive Director, MOST Policy Initiative


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