Reducing Risk and Promoting Health Among Vulnerable Teens and their Families in the Context of COVID-19: A Multisite National and International Implementation and Evaluation Study
COVID‑19 and the associated public health response (e.g., physical distancing) have had significant negative impacts on the mental health of youths and their families. This is particularly notable among vulnerable teens with pre-existing mental health challenges and families experiencing high levels of interpersonal conflict. Concerns that vulnerable teens may leave their family homes and be unable to return due to the risk of COVID‑19 transmission are rising. During these difficult times, caregiver depression, stress, and family violence is likely to increase. Evidence-based interventions supporting vulnerable families are critical to combating these challenges. Connect is an evidence based, trauma-informed, attachment-focused program that promotes effective parenting skills (mindfulness, empathy, emotion regulation), and parent-teen collaborative problem solving. National and international studies have demonstrated that Connect reduces family conflict, caregiver depression and stress, and improves family satisfaction. Furthermore, mental health problems (oppositional behavior, anxiety and depression) are reduced amongst teens whose parents complete the program. While structured, Connect can be flexibly adapted to suit unique cultures and contexts. In response to the call for online mental services for vulnerable populations, we have created eConnect Online, a program that specifically addresses the challenges associated with parenting vulnerable youth in the context of COVID-19. The current project evaluates the challenges (related to COVID‑19 or otherwise) of families at the start of the program, implementation, uptake, and evaluation of eConnect Online through a global network of researchers, health agencies, clinicians and families in developed and developing countries. As collaboration and knowledge sharing are cornerstones of this project, we will use feedback from families and service providers to inform future implementations of eConnect Online.