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Children and the Enduring Impacts of COVID-19

Concern In The Philippines As Wuhan Coronavirus Spreads
Photo Credit: Ezra Acayan / Getty Images
April 27, 2020

While many of the most vulnerable members of society have had to bear the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19, we have taken some solace in the reports that the virus does not appear to pose a heightened or specific risk to children. Although the virus doesn’t appear to have grave consequences on the immediate health outcomes of children, as Vann R. Newkirk II writes in his piece, “The Kids Aren’t All Right,” in The Atlantic — “mortality is only one risk of this crisis.”

The broader impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are far-reaching, and the long-term consequences are likely to be traumatic — “and trauma always falls hardest on the youngest among us.” The trauma that children are experiencing arise from a variety of factors. Physical distancing measures require that we refrain from socializing between households; for a vast portion of children across the world, this has meant the inability to spend time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The critical and nurturing interactions from these vital intergenerational relationships are not always easily replaced by a digital medium. Research conducted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 found that children who had lost family members, were uprooted from their communities, and faced major disruptions in the learning and support traditionally provided by school, suffered from enduring emotional disturbances. The likelihood of recovery among children was “directly linked to existing social disadvantages — namely poverty and race.”

Schools do not only serve as primary sites for children’s cognitive and social development, but they are often also the primary providers for various essential services, such as school feeding programs and access to clean drinking water.

As Newkirk highlights, “all the evidence suggests that children — and poor children especially — will bear an incredible burden during the coronavirus pandemic and the attendant economic shocks. But that evidence has trouble breaking into a national conversation dominated by mortality rates and work-from-home strategies.” We must work proactively to protect the youngest generation from inheriting and carrying forward the emotional scars of this global pandemic, and to ensure that existing inequities within our societies are not amplified by this crisis into intergenerational legacies.