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Nicole Ressa: From community educators to teen call lines and virtual safe spaces, how Planned Parenthood Los Angeles is caring for our communities through COVID-19

Nicole Ressa | September 24, 2020

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Planned Parenthood Los Angeles

Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic closed Los Angeles County schools, Elena, a Promotora (community educator) who has been with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles (PPLA) for more than 15 years, reached out to a mother who had taken parent education classes at a LAUSD high school. Elena called to find out if the mother had followed up and spoken to her children about Substance Abuse, Healthy Beliefs and Clear Rules, and How to Say No to Drugs – lessons learned during three in-person classes she attended.

The mother shared that she had spoken with her teens and was appreciative of having the tools to initiate potentially difficult conversations. Elena was prepared to discuss the next classes she thought the mother might like to take, albeit not in person at this time, but the mother had something else on her mind. She had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Elena listened to her tale of not being able to get timely testing, not having help in caring for her two younger sons who, thankfully, had not contracted the virus, and the guilt she felt from having passed it to her oldest son who had taken her to the doctor.

Elena listened — and then sprang into action, providing the mother with information about mental health support, food banks, and rent assistance programs. As the mother now recovers, Elena continues to check in and follow up with new resources, understanding some parents need help now more than ever.

The hundreds of calls PPLA’s Promotoras are making to check in on parents and offer ongoing education and support are just one part of the work PPLA is doing to meet the moment. Knowing teens are struggling too, PPLA quickly has adapted our education programming to make sure we can continue to be a trusted resource for students even while school is not in session.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended high school students’ expectations for milestones like prom and graduation. It interrupted clubs, sports, and academic pursuits. It separated students from their friends. Then, students found themselves worried and overwhelmed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, wanting to participate in protests against police brutality and systemic racism but also seeking out coping strategies and ways to feel safe.

At the beginning of the year, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH), in partnership with PPLA, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, LAUSD, and the Los Angeles County Office of Education, launched a program that offers support for teens through Wellbeing Centers and PPLA clinics located within those centers on high school campuses throughout the county.

When schools were open, Wellbeing Centers gave students a safe space to ask questions and receive guidance on a wide range of issues. While they are closed, PPLA is making sure teens and their parents continue to have the support they need.

PPLA’s designated Teen Call Line gives teens an opportunity to ask questions about a variety of issues like substance abuse, sexual health, healthy relationships, anxiety, depression, and general mental health and wellbeing. They also can speak with a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who can provide additional resources if needed.

Trainers, in collaboration with LADPH Health Educators, are hosting virtual meetings with peer advocates to provide a safe space for teens to discuss the issues most important to them and hear more about resources they and their friends or family may need. Peer advocates learn stress and time management techniques and gain inspiration from each other. Weekly video conferences provide teens with a much-needed sense of connection and camaraderie that reminds them we’re all in this together.

And like Elena, PPLA’s Promotoras are calling parents who attended workshops at the Wellbeing Center schools to find out if they have increased communication with their teens about drug and alcohol prevention and healthy relationships. Almost all parents say they have and appreciate having the tools needed to discuss how their teenage children are feeling during these times.

PPLA is meeting all of these new challenges with compassion, prioritizing the health and safety of patients and staff, and continuing to deliver the time-sensitive care our community relies on us to provide. At the same time, hundreds of Los Angeles County parents and teens are learning firsthand that care extends well beyond our health centers and high school Wellbeing Centers because it lives in the people who make up PPLA — people like Elena who don’t always have to connect in person to make a very personal connection.

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