In the second installment of our 2-part Connection During COVID post, TRF Programs Manager, Alexandra Van Derlyke, explores the impacts of COVID-19 on children and families.
Just over a year ago, the world was turned upside down. In response to the pandemic, businesses, restaurants, and stores closed down or limited capacity. And, of course, schools were not immune to the closures. With schools and daycares being closed, and parents either working from home or facing job losses, the hardships of living in a pandemic worsened.
Being a parent of two children, I am experiencing firsthand what it is like to raise kids during a pandemic. I am fortunate not to have lost my job during this time, and I consider myself lucky that I am able to work from home. But, it has not been an easy transition for me or my children. The school system in our state has had kids learning virtually some weeks and in-person other weeks throughout the year based on the case rate. The inconsistency alone is a challenge. Like all children, my kids like knowing what to expect and when there is something new every few weeks, it puts them on edge.
For the times my children have been learning virtually, we are very grateful to have access to the internet whereas many people do not, but the connection is shaky at times, and my 11-year old daughter has burst into tears on several occasions when the connection is lost and she feels like she is missing something important from her classes. It’s also frustrating when my children need help and I’m trying to work. While I’m pretty good at multi-tasking, there is a limit to how many things I can concentrate on simultaneously. It requires a shift in mindset to have to choose working or helping your children. Normally, I’m happy to help my kids with their homework, but normally, I’m only with my kids in the evening. I don’t like having to choose between my children and my job.
Even going to school in-person has been a different experience for my children this year. When they are able to go to school, they, of course, wear masks all day, and they have social distancing measures in place. This changes the dynamic of how students interact in school. Even when they are at school, many of their teachers have opted to give assignments that are computer-based to keep kids distanced. Most of the benefits of going to school with other kids have been diminished to seeing each other’s eyes over their masks from a distance without being able to play, work collaboratively on projects, or eat lunch while socializing. And even with all these safety measures in place, there are plenty of children who do not follow the guidelines, and every week my kids tell me they are scared that they may have contracted the virus from someone at school.
My husband has continued going to work in-person based on the nature of his job, but other than that our family has been at home together for months on end. The kids talk to their friends on Facetime and sometimes they play online games with other kids, but their social interaction on a day-to-day basis is very limited compared to our old way of living. The long-term effects of children being isolated from others in their peer group remain to be seen. Kids are resilient, but many have lost ground in their education, their social skill-set, and other developmental factors that will only become apparent as we move forward and start to enter back into life as we knew it.
The challenges I have faced pale in comparison to many people in the world who have lost their jobs altogether, or who have continued to work in-person without the benefit of childcare. Everyone’s experience is different, some are better, and some are much, much worse, but we are all managing to get by during the pandemic as best we can. Some people seem to have embraced the constant contact with family members and posted funny memes and videos about the trials and tribulations of working and schooling from home. Many others faced serious challenges based on a lack of connectivity or access to the educational materials needed for their children to be successful. For others, the story is different, and they have lost their jobs altogether which leads to stresses and problems of a different sort. How have your children reacted to the changes we’ve experienced over the last year? How are you handling the changes your kids are experiencing?
The pandemic has also exacerbated societal disparities in many countries based on socioeconomic factors and race. According to UNICEF, “The global socioeconomic crisis caused by the pandemic could push 142 million more children into monetary poor households in developing countries by the end of the year. The total number of children living in poor households globally could reach just over 725 million in the absence of any mitigating policies. Nearly two-thirds of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.”1
Along with parents and children being in constant contact, the rate of domestic violence has also increased. “Children are specifically vulnerable to abuse during COVID-19. Research shows that increased stress levels among parents is often a major predictor of physical abuse and neglect of children. Stressed parents may be more likely to respond to their children’s anxious behaviors or demands in aggressive or abusive ways.”2 People are being pushed to the brink of what they can handle, and the consequences can be devastating.
The long-term impacts on children of growing up during a pandemic and having inconsistent schooling are only just starting to be studied. The journal Minerva Medica published a study that states, “Being quarantined in homes and institutions may impose greater psychological burden than the physical sufferings caused by the virus. School closure, lack of outdoor activity, aberrant dietary and sleeping habits are likely to disrupt children's usual lifestyle and can potentially promote monotony, distress, impatience, annoyance and varied neuropsychiatric manifestations.”3
While all of this is very disheartening, there have been bright spots in this dark time in our history. Lots of organizations have pulled together their resources in an effort to help kids in need. Feeding America has established a COVID-19 Response Fund to help food banks across the country support those facing hunger in communities impacted by the pandemic. Blessings in a Backpack is another organization that works to feed low-income students over weekends when schools are closed. In other parts of the world, Global Fund for Children has launched an Emergency Response Fund to issue immediate cash grants to their partners serving children affected by the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.
Closer to TRF’s home in the Boston, MA area, it is uplifting to hear of effective services and programs running in the face of adversity caused by the pandemic – the YMCA in Massachusetts has managed to keep their doors open for the entirety of the pandemic. They have provided affordable childcare for frontline healthcare providers, and safe supportive study spaces with adequate internet for homeless and low income children. What local groups or organizations do you know of that are helping children and families thrive during these unusual times?
We are grateful for those people and groups in communities all over the world who are working together to make a difference for the children in their lives, be it moms and dads, teachers, caretakers, community leaders, youth group leaders, healthcare workers, and others.
We’d love to hear how you and the kids in your life are doing! Let us know in the comments section below.
First, we would appreciate it if you would take a few moments to complete the following short survey to help us learn what the TRF Community is doing to support children and families.
Next, we share another survey opportunity. Two outpatient therapists, Kim Hager and Maria Martinez, from Children's Friend, Inc. are interested in studying families' experiences of and barriers to accessing mental health services for their children. For the purpose of their research, they are comparing three groups – caregivers of children with one or more mental health conditions (including autism and developmental disabilities), caregivers of children with mental health conditions and common medical conditions, and caregivers of children with mental health conditions and rare diseases. They are asking caregivers to complete an anonymous online survey that takes approximately 10-20 minutes. Caregivers include biological parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, step-parents, guardians, and kinship homes with children under the age of 18 living anywhere within the United States. The study is approved by the IRB. Please help by filling out the survey and/or sharing it. The hope is the survey results will assist mental health providers in tailoring services to meet families’ needs. Thank you and your valuable feedback is greatly appreciated!
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