Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, it has become increasingly evident to the public just how critical the role of our nation’s health education specialists has become. NCHEC is extremely proud of the many health CHES® and MCHES® who serve as essential personnel in the continual fight against this global pandemic. They have assumed critical roles in the identification, control, and assurance of the needs of individuals and communities. They advocate fiercely for public protection measures, and support many other critical health education and health behavior measures during these very difficult times.
The following interview is part of an ongoing series to highlight the amazing work efforts of our credential-holders.
NCHEC: What is your current job title and where do you work?
Ashley: I work at the Child Abuse Prevention Association (CAPA), a small non-profit located in Beaufort, South Carolina, that is committed to breaking the destructive cycle of child abuse and neglect. I am the Family Services Coordinator and Accreditation Specialist.
NCHEC: What are your job duties as Family Services Coordinator and Accreditation Specialist?
Ashley: Prior to COVID-19, my job duties entailed leading CAPA’s home visitation program, in which I serve families in four counties in my region. In addition to this role, I also teach safe sleep education, which would entail expectant mothers coming to our office to participate in the program. I also attend monthly staffing meetings with community partners to discuss cases involving child maltreatment, offering my recommendations for treatment plans as needed.
NCHEC: How have these responsibilities changed as a result of COVID-19?
Ashley: Since March 2020, when South Carolina was mandated to close non-essential businesses, we at CAPA have had to modify the ways in which we deliver our programming. In my case, I am no longer meeting with families in their homes, but am communicating with them via video conferencing, phone calls, social media, and text messaging. I am still able to receive new clients; however, an electronic intake packet had to be created so that the participants can complete them from their computer, tablet, or cell phone. Our agency also implemented an online safe sleep education program that expectant mothers can take; upon completion, they send me their certificate, and the no-contact delivery of their free Pack & Play is coordinated.
NCHEC: Do you think your role as a certified health education specialist may be permanently altered due to this worldwide pandemic?
Ashley: Absolutely. Flexibility has become a huge necessity for my role, and so many others at CAPA. Looking down the line, I anticipate that there will be more periods of having to work remotely again if needed. It will be important for me to remain flexible in program delivery, potentially implementing a hybrid structure of virtual home visits and occasional meetings with families in an outdoor setting.
NCHEC: Do you feel that you and your organization have gained increased recognition for the critical role of health education specialists in public and community health?
I think the need for health education has definitely been acknowledged as a critical role, and the program I manage is included in this. Families have needed continued support during this time, not only for parenting issues, but also for implementing healthy coping strategies for themselves and their children, as our lives have been completely turned upside down with schools and businesses closing. The biggest concern has been about the increased stress on families, which can increase the risk for child maltreatment. It’s important to continue this type of programming to maintain relationships with parents and to serve as a trusted resource to guide them into making healthy choices for their families.