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Time to "Wring Out" our Sponges

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

by Cathye Williams, BA

Wraparound Facilitator and Trauma Assessment Center Support Worker

When I think of how we deal with this pandemic, I think of us as sponges. Whether it’s information, politics, uncertainty, or grief - we are taking it all in. The grief may be due to a personal loss or due to the collective sadness and anxiety roiling through society. Regardless, we are soaking it up every day. As we go through this #AloneTogether, we could probably all use a good wringing out.

Child and Family has been providing Wraparound Services in Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties for 13 years. We work with families whose children are at risk for out of home placement because of a severe emotional disturbance. Wrap families are typically struggling in many areas and are often experiencing one or more of the following: poverty, inadequate housing, domestic violence, physical or mental illness, substance abuse, trauma, unemployment, and learning or other disabilities. It goes without saying that the threat of the coronavirus, and the hardships brought about as we try to limit its spread, are going to have a multiplicative impact on these families. Their sponges were already pretty full.

Wraparound brings together supports to form a family team. The team meets regularly and develops a plan that uses the family’s strengths to work towards their self-selected goals. These teams are dynamic and adapt to a family’s changing circumstances. Today they must adapt to many other circumstances as well. Traditionally Wraparound meetings take place in the home, or another setting chosen by the family. Now meetings are taking place “virtually” in all our homes. There are some advantages to this- more folks can attend when all it takes to get to a meeting is a click. But the quality of the meeting without body language, eye contact and other visual clues often suffers. Building trust and rapport is a slow, thoughtful and very human process, ideally done “in real life.”

Wraparound is action-oriented and hands-on. On any given day, a Wraparound Facilitator or other team member may be physically helping with any number of things: a ride, a garden, a budget, organizing or making a home safe, just to name a few. This element of Wrap has been put on hold, and when it resumes, hands-on will become gloves-on, and masks-on too.

The Wraparound process is always guided by a plan. But in this time of Covid19, plans are tenuous at best. We don’t know what camps or other programs will be held. Festivals, fairs, and many family events, so much a part of community life, have been cancelled. Employment is unstable, and for those lucky enough to have a job, there are new guidelines and parameters. Some will be overworked, and some won’t make enough to live. Relief programs and resources have been a patchwork and often difficult to navigate. Now we need plans, back-up plans, and plans to be disappointed.

Community care is at the core of the Wraparound model. Our work is woven in with that of many other helpers in the schools, the courts, public assistance, healthcare and mental health systems. In this new paradigm, some junctions where these systems meet are still under construction, but we’re all learning together as we go. I am thankful for our community partners for staying the course. Even when there’s glitches they keep showing up with creativity and caring attitudes.

Ironically, some of what is “filling our sponges” is intended to help, not to overwhelm us. We get new and upgraded technologies for working, learning and socializing remotely. We get tips for everything, whether it’s bread making, binge watching, haircutting, or managing cranky kids. It seems there is a webinar or YouTube video for literally everything. Normally I would appreciate this bounty. But lately I wonder if there would be more time to help, if there was less help to sift through. What is truly helpful when we are dealing with so much input? Maybe a few less ideas, more time and space to process them, and trust that things will get better. Home-based providers suddenly find themselves in the pandemic world right along with their clients. There is no hiding the fact that we are in a shared experience. Meeting clients “where they’re at” takes on a whole new meaning, as everyone can feel exposed or helpless. It can be a clarifying moment when a worker feels the same loss of efficacy that our clients experience routinely.

Wraparound Facilitators walk beside our families through many problems, finding new paths and helpers along the way. Switching this journey onto an electronic highway has had its challenges, but also some bright spots. Many virtual tools will come in handy and be time savers in the future. Technology may allow access and options in ways we hadn’t thought of before. The pandemic has definitely exposed inequities in our systems and garnered new advocates for social change and justice.

Time will tell how it plays out – things we will be happy to never see again, like my own face staring at me from a computer screen, and things we will gladly put in our tool box for later. When it’s time to go back out there, I’ll be thankful to put on my mask and gloves and go do Wraparound #JustTogether.

For more information about the Wraparound Program, please visit

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