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Back-to-School Decision Guide

Many families are struggling to decide whether to send their children back to school in person or to use virtual options. This guide will help you by looking at risks and strengths and then prioritizing the biggest impacts on your family.

Step 1: Physical Health

Begin by exploring your family's risks and strengths as they relate to physical health.

Step 2: Social Health

Next, make a list of your family's risks and strengths as they relate to social health.

Step 3: Mental Health

Finally, list your family's risks and strengths as they relate to mental health.

Step 4: Prioritize

Once you have listed your family's risks and strengths in each category, go back and circle the items that have the biggest impact on your family. These items are the priorities for your decision-making process.

Before You Start

Download a copy of the decision guide worksheet. Or use a plain piece of paper, divided into six sections. You can also look at this sample to see how the decision guide is completed.

As you work on your guide, think about:

  • Your entire family's needs
  • Your child's needs
  • Siblings' needs
  • Your needs

Because each child's needs are different, consider completing this guide for each child and identifying their unique risks and strengths.

Our Family Resource Specialists can help you with this process. Contact us to learn more.

Step 1: Physical Health

When thinking about risks and strengths in the physical health category, look at:

  • Risks may make things harder if someone in your household does get sick.
  • Strengths may help your family to stay healthy.

For example:

  • My child rarely gets sick (strength)
  • My child is able to follow good hygiene practices (strength)
  • My child has a disability (risk)
  • A member of our family has heart disease (risk)
  • I get sick easily (risk)

Remember to think about all members of the household, including your child, siblings, yourself, and other adults living with you. It may be helpful to include other adults and children who are able to add to your list during this part of the process.

Write your risks and strengths on the decision guide under the first column.

Things to think about:

  • Disabilities (either physical or developmental)
  • Hygiene practices (can children properly wash hands or avoid putting things in their mouths?)
  • Mask usage (can your child tolerate a mask?)
  • Health history (does your child or a member of the family have a history of health problems?)
  • Family wellness (are members of your family at higher risk?)

Step 2: Social Health

Your social health includes your family and the people they interact with regularly. It also includes the environment where you live and work. In this section, look at how relationships with others and your environment may increase strengths or risks. 

  • Risks may make it harder to meet family needs.
  • Strengths may help your family meet its needs.

For example:

  • My parents/neighbor can help out with the kids (strength)
  • My employer is allowing me to work from home (strength)
  • We do not rely on free and reduced lunch programs (strength)
  • My spouse/partner is an essential worker and must report in-person (risk)
  • My child did not make progress during virtual learning (risk)
  • We live in an area where internet access is unreliable (risk)
Again, ask members of the household to help make this list, if possible - including your child. Write risks and strengths under the second column.

People to think about:

  • Immediate family and Extended family (people you see regularly)
  • Your child's friends, teachers and therapists
  • Your friends
  • Your faith-based community
  • Employers

How do these relationships increase risk or strength?

Environmental factors:

  • Income and essential needs (food, health, safety)
  • Access to educational materials

Step 3: Mental Health

We are living in a very difficult time. Even if no one in your family has ever received a mental health diagnosis, knowing your risks and strengths can help your family be prepared to cope with almost daily changes. In this section:

  • Risks make it harder for your family to cope.
  • Strengths improve your family's ability to respond to problems.
For example:
  • My spouse/partner and I make time for one another to unwind (strength)
  • I use meditation/prayer to cope with problems (strength)
  • My spouse/partner has an "even" personality and helps me re-frame problems (strength)
  • My child has a learning disability that causes a lot of frustration (risk)
  • My child has shared fears about returning to in-person school (risk)
  • My child is a natural worrier and will be upset if other children don't follow rules (risk)

In this section, remember that a strength for one family member can be a risk for another. For example, you may have good coping skills but your child may not. When another family member is unable to cope, the outcomes can impact the whole family.

Areas to think about:

  • Coping skills (use of exercise, mediation/prayer, journalism, breathing, etc. to cope with negative feelings)
  • Self-esteem
  • Social skills
  • Temperament (natural tendencies to be calm, excitable, react poorly to change, etc.)
  • Existing mental health diagnoses

Step 4: Prioritize

Now that you have thought about your risks and strengths, it's time to prioritize. The most important thing to keep in mind during this step is that your priorities are unique.

In your family, the most important priority may be making it to work each day. In another family, first priority may be caring for elderly parents - or protecting the health of a medically fragile child. There may even be multiple, conflicting, top priorities. Just remember that no one else will have exactly the same risks and strengths as you.

To prioritize, look at the risk boxes and circle your top priorities. Under each circled risk, does your family have strengths to make up for it? If not, this risk may be a deciding factor for your family.

Once you understand your priorities:

  • Reach out to your district or school to learn about your options. Districts may have services in place to help meet needs (for example, free WiFi hotspots in improve access)
  • Contact a CFK family resource specialist (FRS) to find supports. FRSs are in contact with community agencies and support groups who can help.
  • Connect with others who have similar deciding factors (CFK Facebook groups are a great way to do that). Contact with others in similar situations can help you to feel supported as you make decisions for your family.

Conflicting priorities:

Many families will experience conflicting priorities with this decision-making process - but there are people who can help.

Connecting for Kids Family Resource Specialists can help you to explore options including alternative schools, community supports, or mental health providers. To get help:

  • Call/text: 440-570-5908 (para espaƱol: 440-907-9130)
  • Email: info@connectingforkids.org

Call, text or email:

Phone: 1-440-570-5908
EspaƱol: 1-440-907-9130
Email: info@connectingforkids.org


P.O. Box 45372
Westlake, Ohio 44145

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