St. John’s Professor Studies Impact of COVID-19 on Children

Front of St. John Hall in springtime
October 2, 2020

Elissa Brown, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has built her entire career around mental health interventions for victims of trauma, particularly children. Over the last 20 years, she has developed an expertise in disaster mental health. She has treated victims of the September 11attacks, as well as those who suffered as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Today, she is doing the same for young victims of COVID-19.

Dr. Brown is Executive Director of Child HELP Partnership (CHP) at St. John’s University, which offers free therapy for children who have experienced interpersonal violence. Dr. Brown works very closely with the local community to adapt their services to its needs by making sure they are culturally relevant, and she trains clinicians throughout the country. She also provides prevention programs for parents and other caregivers. 

“I love what I do,” she stressed. “All of the St. John’s students I work with are remarkable. They push me and challenge me. Their heart is really in it.”

“In March, COVID started really impacting the borough of Queens—a community that I care so much about,” Dr. Brown asserted. “Again, it was time to go to work. That is what a disaster mental health person has to do.” With her colleagues from CHP, Dr. Brown offered information sessions for parents, clergy, and community leaders. 

Her team recently began a study of the impact of COVID-19 on children in Queens, NY. The study is being co-sponsored by the Office of the Queens Borough President. Together, they are assessing how the pandemic has affected children ages 9 through 17 and their parents/caregivers with the goal of identifying what these families need in terms of interventions.

Children and their parents are completing surveys on their COVID-19 experience and associated emotions and behavior. Dr. Brown and her team expect a range of reactions from the children.  “By asking about a range of understandable reactions to a national crisis, we will identify different groups of children and can match interventions to each group’s set of emotions and behavior,” she stressed.

Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee has been a great partner in this effort, Dr. Brown noted. “She is very dedicated to her community and really understands the need to comprehend what is happening before making decisions.” 

Dr. Brown added that many other community leaders have helped her inform the public. “This is really where the community comes together to take care of itself.”

It is premature to discuss any conclusions the survey data may reveal since it is still being disseminated to residents, Dr. Brown noted. She hopes for participation from at least 500 children. Currently, she is trying to raise funds to include more children from Queens and is applying for a grant to include children from other areas of New York City. “We want to make sure we have a good understanding of kids from various demographic backgrounds.”

Those interested in helping fund the study can find more information here.