COVID-19 and its emerging variants have taken an immeasurable toll on our daily lives. As adults, we find ourselves struggling to adapt to this new normal, and if we are struggling, then what about our children?
Over the past decade our children have either experienced or been exposed to gun violence in schools, cyber bullying, issues of sexual identity and homophobia, drugs, domestic violence, racial tension and changing social norms. We can now add the impact of living during a pandemic to this troubling list. Most children depend upon a structured, stable and safe environment to bring order and a frame of reference to their daily lives. The pandemic has uprooted this feeling of stability in many different ways and on varying levels.
A major impact on children is in the area of education. Schools not only represent a learning resource but a source of stability, safety, emotional and social contact, support and growth as well as providing daily nutrition, especially important for underserved students. Since March 2020, students have been subjected to lockdowns, erratic school schedules, animus over masks and vaccines in addition to lack of social contact.
Systemic racism further exacerbates these conditions in communities of color since those living in underserved communities are more likely to be vaccine hesitant and thereby more susceptible to contract COVID-19 and increase its spread.
Their hesitancy is due, in some cases, to misinformation and a fear of the repeat of the Tuskegee Experiment, a study conducted, in part, by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to find the results of the progression of syphilis on those who remained untreated. Unfortunately, the nearly 400 poor Black men who took part in the experiment thought that they were receiving free medical care from the government, and more than 100 died as a result.
Children living within these communities lean heavily on the support of education professionals to assist in their learning. In addition, homeless children have no access to technology based learning. As a result, these children have fallen behind and find it hard, if not impossible, to catch up.
The toll on the mental health of school-age children resulting from these issues is of serious concern. On the rise are behavioral problems, gun violence, teenage suicides, feelings of depression and isolation. The New York Times recently reported that three medical groups representing child psychiatrists and children’s hospitals declared “a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.” The worst effects have been on Black and Latino children, as well as children in high-poverty schools.
What can be done to stem the tide of COVID-19’s tsunami that has such far-reaching repercussions on our youths? A part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan provides a source of funding through the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).
Under the plan, monies were to be used “to meet a wide range of needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic including reopening schools’ safety, sustaining their safe operation, and addressing students’ social, emotional, mental health and academic needs training resulting from the pandemic.”
Further, “these funds are to be used to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups including each major racial and ethnic group, low-income families, differently abled children, English learners, gender, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness and children and youth in foster care.”
Gov. DeSantis planned to use the money, in spite of its intended purpose, to reward teachers and school principals with a $1,000 bonus as compensation for their work during the pandemic.
Today’s youths have a lot to consume on their emotional/social plate, which leads me to remember growing up as the youngest in my circle of friends and, because of this, I would try to act grown-up. My mother, witnessing my behavior, would advise me to stay a child as long as I could. In today’s environment, I’m not sure if I would want to.
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