This has not been a fun year for anyone. I know that I have struggled. Let’s take the year’s end to reflect on what 2020 has meant for children on both sides of the border and what we can do to make this year a little less lost.
Dealing with Covid-19 and the restrictions needed to protect our communities from the disease have hit kids particularly hard. Experts report that children have experienced: lost education, trauma, loss, grief, hunger, homelessness, depression and anxiety.
When I’m having a hard day, I can remind myself that this won’t last forever. Kids don’t have years of experience to use as a reference. Adults have the advantage of viewing the pandemic losses in the context of lifelong experience and perspective whereas kids have little context to make them optimistic that things will be different.
Reports of child abuse have actually gone down during the pandemic. That sounds odd. Stressors that contribute to abuse, like unemployment and homelessness have increased.
But think about it. Child abuse is often reported by adults in frequent contact with children who are trained to detect signs of abuse or neglect and required to report them – teachers, coaches and healthcare professionals. During the pandemic, many U.S. children only receive online education. In Mexico, public schools have suspended all in classroom learning. Many medical visits have also gone virtual. So, the adults most likely to report abuse, are not in regular contact with kids.
Experts believe that child abuse has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, it just isn’t getting reported. Countering the lack of official reporting of child abuse, UNICEF in Mexico reports an increase in 9-1-1 calls reporting family based violence. CEPAL (the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) and UNICEF have raised the alarm that steps need to be taken to protect those at risk of violence during Covid-19.
This is just the tip of the Covid iceberg in terms of impact on kids. Many studies have shown that childhood adversity translates into problems later in life. The impact of 2020 will live with us for years to come. We will need to counter the negative impact with a multitude of solutions at the personal, local, state, federal and international levels.
Rather than simply lamenting this lost year, here a few things you can do:
- Commit to do something to make a difference in a child’s life. Make a decision and follow through. There are plenty of opportunities around you. Seek them out.
- Abused and neglected children need adults who will step up on their behalf. Consider becoming a foster parent to kids in need. Foster parents are needed in both countries.
- If foster parenting is too much of a stretch, think about being a child advocate in the US court system. Every state has a program that is either called Guardian Ad Litem or Casa that trains volunteers to help the court determine what is in “the best interest” of an individual child when there is concern about abuse or neglect.
- Become a tutor. Almost every child has lost academic ground this year. Call your neighborhood school.
- Support those working to help children. One organization in Mexico that needs your help is Adolesencia Feliz Evitando Callejerzación Infantil A.C. It works to prevent childhood and teenage homelessness. One U.S. organization doing similarly good work is Covenant House. Make a donation.
The enormity of the problem is dispiriting. Don’t let the weight of the Covid year keep you from acting. Pick one thing to help a child that is in your power. Then do it. Who knows where it might lead.
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson