Saving our children

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said of COVID-19’s impact on the youngest among us, “Children are not the face of this pandemic. But they risk being among its biggest victims, as children’s lives are nonetheless being changed in profound ways.

“For some children, the impact will be lifelong … they are expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries, and in the poorest neighborhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.”

The weight of trauma for children is often taken for granted in our society, as can be a child’s ability to cope with events that strip him or her of a sense of normalcy and security, and that interrupt academic processes and social connectedness critical for healthy childhood development.

COVID-19 shut the nation’s children out of their classrooms across the country, subjected unknown numbers of students to academic setbacks, due to virtual learning challenges, and plunged households into conditions of poverty and fear about the future.

The consequences are children dislodged from the stability of in-person schooling, and thrust into psychological confinement in a world where they are forbidden from regular physical contact with friends and relatives, and walled off from emotional inclusion by parents overwhelmed with the pandemic’s “adult” problems.

When factoring in the anguish and loss suffered by thousands of children from Abaco and Grand Bahama in September 2019, the nation’s youth are the future in urgent need of our present-day attention.

In an effort to measure the pandemic’s effect on children, NBC News gathered data to assess changes since March 2020, when school closures began in the United States.

Its report showed that emergency rooms saw a 24 percent increase in mental health-related visits from children ages five to 11 compared to 2019, and a 31 percent increase in visits from older children.

A report by the US-based non-profit organization NWEA, which analyzed math test results of over four million students in grades three through eight, found that most scored an average of five to 10 percentile points behind students who sat the same test the previous year, with underprivileged children showing deeper declines in some areas.

NWEA said over three million vulnerable students, including those with disabilities, appeared to have been out of school since March 2020.

Though face-to-face learning has resumed, it is still unclear what the plan was regarding support to help vulnerable students catch up on all they have missed.

Failing our children in this area only heightens and multiplies the country’s present and future problems.

The results of a global research series published by UK-based humanitarian group Save the Children, which surveyed over 13,000 children and over 35,000 caregivers in 46 countries on the hidden impact of COVID-19 on children, are particularly instructive.

The group said, “Our results also show a significant impact on the psycho-social well-being of children and their caregivers. More than eight in 10 children reported an increase in negative feelings. One-third of households had a child or caregiver reporting violence in the home. Children reported that violence was higher when schools were closed, compared to when they were attending in person.

“The recommendations guided by views and voices of children provide guidance on the next steps needed to build back better for a post-COVID-19 future, which respects, protects and fulfills the rights of all children, in all contexts.”

Bahamians have decried pandemic decisions made without stakeholder consultation, but how often have we stopped to consider that children are the principal stakeholders in their rebound from COVID-19, yet we do not make room in society for their views and voices to be heard and appropriately acted upon?

The hope for our tomorrow rests in today’s child, and as such, our hope for sustainable recovery from the effects of COVID-19 will be anchored in a new normal that places new and necessary focus on holistic recovery for the nation’s children.

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