Social distancing and quarntine have been tough for many kids, but the distance has raised unique challenges for some youths in the LGBTQ community. Here in Massachusetts, the Home For Little Wanderers' Waltham House has become a safe haven for children within the community, and now the home is extending its reach by offering outpatient services for kids and families who may be grappling with their identites during the pandemic. WGBH News Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with Waltham House director Allyson Montana about the program and the services it provides. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Joe Mathieu: Waltham House is one of only three of its kind in the country, beginning with your residents — those who live there. These are teenagers who were facing very precarious situations at home.

Allyson Montana: Absolutely, and for a variety of different reasons. So sometimes that is focused as a result of their sexuality or their identity, and sometimes that's layered with other trauma impacts as well.

Mathieu: So how does the program work? What services do you provide when they come to live there?

Montana: Our goal, honestly, is to treat our kids in a holistic fashion, so really addressing the variety of needs and skill sets that they need to have focused on when they come to see us. So we provide a myriad of different interventions. There's therapeutic, there's individual therapy, family therapy, we do group work, we do life skill development — so bank accounts, getting jobs — and we do personal skill development like cooking and hygiene, which all teenagers need to work on. That's just sort of the tip of the iceberg.

Mathieu: And does the duration vary on the individual? How long do they normally stay with you?

Montana: That's a great question, Joe. It does vary very much on individual needs [and] their transition plan after Waltham House. But I would say on average, it could be anywhere from six months to a year and a half or so.

Mathieu: As you introduce the idea now of outpatient services, this is a whole new approach. Instead of having teenagers come to you, you're going to them.

Montana: Yeah, absolutely. We got to thinking a lot around how could we do more? No matter what we do for LGBTQ youth in the system — in care or in need at all — we felt so limited by what we were able to provide at Waltham House because the admission criteria is so specific. So we came up with Out at Home, and Out at Home is our opportunity to free up all restrictions and have our licensed social worker, who is LGBTQ-specific focused, reach out into the community, work with kids and/or families in any facet of the community. So she can go into kids' homes, into families homes, she can meet kids at schools [and] she can meet people at coffee shops. But it's really allowed us to open up and branch out our services further into the community than we ever thought we could get.

Mathieu: What do you tell parents who are hearing from their kids about these challenges? How early should these conversations happen in a teenager's life?

Montana: That is an excellent question. I think one that a lot of people sit with often. In my personal opinion, I think that these conversations can never happen too early. I think as soon as kids bring things up or ask questions, we need to be having honest conversations with our children. That's how we start to build the sense of equality, that's how we start to build a sense of safety and that the more honest we are [and] the earlier we can get support, the less likely kids are to face challenges as they continue down the path into teenage years.

Mathieu: We hear a lot from parents who say, "it seems so young now — it's earlier and earlier. How do they know? It wasn't like this when we were kids." Is it simply because we're living in a new social age where it's more accepted that we're actually hearing about these cases where they were silence in the past?

Montana: That's exactly right. And I think that's kind of going for everything nowadays, right? "This never existed when I was young. I was the only lesbian in the world when I was young", Joe, right? And I think that is a result of social media and exposure. Kids have so much access to the world at large that we never had when we were young. So I think it's more of this person is showing me this thing on social media and, 'I kind of have those same feelings or those same thoughts. I can now relate and now I have language to put with it.'

Mathieu: And so, Allyson, the phone at Waltham House is ringing more than ever.

Montana: It is. And it's a really challenging time all around, especially in the age of COVID. Kids are home so much. When they're out in the community, kids are limited to where they're going and to who they can access, so we have families and kids struggling more than they ever have, I think — or in a whole new way, even — around how to coexist with each other and/or how to process these identity journeys without outside support.

Mathieu: And without having the support that may arrive in school, your work is all the more important. Are you prepared for the possibility of not having schools the beginning of next year?

Montana: I am. It makes me sad to think about that for our kids because I think they get so much necessary social engagement at school. But I will say, and I hate to say it like this, but it does make me feel good that if they can't be going to school, at least they're here with us and they're safe.

Mathieu: Absolutely. Well, this is a conversation that needs to happen far beyond June, and we'd love to have you back to let us know how things are going later on in the summer as we get ready for the next school year. Allyson Montana is the director of Waltham House. You can find them online at Allyson, thank you for all the work you're doing and for being with us on WGBH Radio.

Montana: Thank you so much for having me, Joe. I look forward to talking to you again.