Ottawa

Parents turning to police for help with teens during lockdown

Police and youth workers in Ottawa say they've seen an increase in calls about disputes between teens and their parents during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

COVID-19 forcing families into isolation together, often causing friction

Between March 16 and April 30, Ottawa police saw a 24 per cent increase in family dispute calls, often from parents seeking help dealing with their teenagers during isolation. (Shutterstock / Tero Vesalainen)

Police and youth workers in Ottawa say they've seen an increase in calls about disputes between teens and their parents during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

Ottawa police said they saw a 24 per cent increase in family dispute calls in the first month and a half of the isolation measures, compared to the same period last year. 

Acting Deputy Chief Joan McKenna said many of those calls were from parents reaching out for help with their own teenagers.

"We help parents that are struggling to manage their teenage children because, as you can appreciate, the social and physical distancing could be a challenge for some of the teenagers who were used to hanging out with their friends," McKenna said.

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Joanne Lowe, executive director of the Youth Services Bureau, says many parents are struggling to deal with their kids on top of other stressors such as job loss, housing insecurity and health concerns.

She said police are talking to parents about strategies to manage some of that conflict, especially while schools remain closed.

McKenna said she did not have statistics on how many of the 245 calls resulted in some kind of charge or arrest.

Loss of peer connections

YouTurn, which provides intensive support services for young people at risk, also began receiving more calls related to tensions at home about two weeks after schools closed.

"It's a pretty significant shock," said Marisa Moher, the agency's executive director. "Especially for youth, they value their peer networks so incredibly much from a developmental perspective."

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Marisa Moher, executive director of youturn Youth Support Services, says staff are seeing more calls from parents who say their teenagers won’t respect physical distancing rules.

On top of that, families aren't getting the daily break from each other that school and work provide.

Moher said in cases managed by her agency, police may have been called because arguments have escalated to the point where there was physical confrontation, property was damaged or the teenager attempted to leave home.

Do not be ashamed to ask for help.- Joanne Lowe, Youth Services Bureau

Moher said case workers are also struggling to underline the importance of physical distancing to teenagers who sometimes don't see COVID-19 as a risk to their own health.

"We have had to do quite a lot of education with youth around the potential of being fined by bylaw, and the scale of how expensive some of those tickets are."

Moher said teens can use online tools to connect with their peers and try to carve out their own space at home to reduce friction. She said it's also important for parents to take care of their own mental health and seek help if they need it.

"Parents have huge amounts of stress related to income and job loss and food security in cases like that, and so their ability to manage those conflicts are a little compromised."

Moher said caseworkers are also helping parents access income supports if financial instability is creating stress for the family. 

YSB also seeing surge in calls

The Youth Services Bureau (YSB) of Ottawa has had a 60 per cent increase in calls to its crisis lines, including phone calls, text messages and online chats.

"When they do call the crisis line we will often help them walk through the moment that they're in and then we'll provide them with a whole number of other strategies," executive director Joanne Lowe said.

WATCH: Youth mental health crisis line sees increase in calls during COVID-19 pandemic

Youth mental health crisis line sees increase in calls during COVID-19 pandemic

2 years ago
Duration 1:16
Joanne Lowe, executive director of the Youth Services Bureau, says the centre has seen an increase in calls to its crisis line during the pandemic, including from parents who are concerned about their child’s mental health.

Lowe said immediate crises make up about one-third of the calls. Parents seeking resources to help their families cope with the sustained anxiety caused by the pandemic make up another third.

About 13 per cent of calls are related to suicidal thoughts, which Lowe said the YSB is equipped to handle.

She said those proportions are consistent with the calls prior to the pandemic. 

Lowe said YSB has moved its mental health drop-in clinic online, and urged people needing help to call, whether they're parents or youth.

"If you are in need of help, do not be afraid," Lowe said. "Do not be ashamed to ask for help."


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