Childhood in Covid-19 times

Childhood in Covid-19 times

Covid 19 is not only a health threat because of the risk of a virus infection. The effects the lockdown and social distancing have on our economy, our jobs, our homes, on our physical and mental health, on family lives and relationships are severe. Lately media talked much about the impact the lockdowns have on our economies worldwide. But I think it is time to focus on how the corona crises effects our children.

Children lost many of their most essential rights. There are reasons, why the UN agreed on the Children’s rights convention and why certain rights were written into this convention: There are certain things, that are important for a healthy and good development of children. The right to play outside, the right to get an education, the right to be protected from violence and abuse, the right for a healthy upbringing with enough medical care and healthy food, etc. all these are truly important.

The Covid 19 has great impact on children’s lives. Kids are in lockdown in their homes. Yes there are children, who have big homes and gardens and are enjoying that their parents finally have more time for them. But let’s for once look at the children, who are struggling now.

For many kids “home” means staying in small confined apartments, with hardly any place to play and be physically active. Sometimes even without a balcony. Some children are/were locked in more confined apartments than some prisoners in some countries. But kids need to play and they need to play outdoors! Just the fact, that children need to be exposed to the sun to produce enough vitamin D to grow up healthy, shows how important outdoor play is for their development. In some countries – like Spain – they weren’t even allowed to leave the house for weeks. Have you seen the pictures of when the Spanish Children were finally free to go play outside! Few eyes can keep dry at the sight of that joy and burst of energy and abundance of life!

Schools are closed and kids have to do homeschooling. For a couple days, this may have sounded like fun to many kids (definitely to my kids). But after 7 weeks children and parents are really feeling the impact of the lack of schooling.

While balancing work and parenting is challenging on normal days, homeschooling is putting a lot of extra pressure on families now. Some kids comply and try their best to learn and not fall behind too much. Many parents handle the situation somehow and take on the role of teachers. However as far as our personal experience goes and after talking to parents of our kids’ classes, we know that, even in the best coping families, kids try to focus on some important subjects but can and do not learn as much as they normally would at school. I admit that for some subjects learning less is ok, but for some things like foreign languages and Maths the basics are important.

And let’s not forget the social aspect: Children have to study now like college kids before big exams: alone for hours (and unlike college kids used to be able to do, they cannot go out afterwards and meet their friends at parties). My kids are trying hard and I am there to support them as well as I can, (while simultaneously working from home), but they do get lonely and sad because they miss their classmates and teachers.

I hope that our school systems will use this crises as a chance to review, what should really be taught at schools, how much pressure we should normally put kids under and how we could change school requirements in general to teach children the basics (like maths and languages) really well and then focus on teaching skills like how to solve problems, how to study, how to approach new subjects, how to set goals and reach them, how to be creative and social skills instead of only learning things by heart in times of google, reproducing knowledge for tests and then forgetting most of it. We also should review how and what we test at schools… But that’s a topic for another day.

What really concerns me and many professionals who work with underprivileged children, is the impact the lockdown has on those kids. There are so many things that could be said about their situation. Overall, I guess one could just say that Covid 19 makes difficult situations for underprivileged families even more difficult, the gap between children from these families and well-situated kids widens even more, and it becomes more and more difficult to catch up.

Just look at the homeschooling situation: While many middle class parents struggle to keep an overview over the assignments and to teach their kids, many socially disadvantaged families don’t even have the hardware to receive the assignments to print the worksheets out and some parents can’t even read the assignments (because they often don’t know the language of the country they live in well enough), let alone explain the topics to the children. While normally teachers would be trying to teach immigrant kids the language of the country they live in and they hear and speak this language at school, these kids now only hear the language that is spoken at their homes. So, for these kids it becomes even harder to catch up with the other kids in class.

But these are not the only homeschooling problems we social workers see in underprivileged families. Often, families, who don’t have the resources to print out and help with schoolwork, also live in smaller and more confined places than other families. And they live closer to bigger streets with more traffic and less opportunities to play outside. Usually where I live the situation is not too bad for low income families, because as a child friendly city, Regensburg has created a network of playgrounds that provides a playground within walking distance for every child – no matter where they live. And we have youth centers in every part of the city, where children and youngsters can go and spend their afternoons with lots of opportunities for play, physical activities, social interaction and social workers who are there if needed. But now, with playgrounds and youth centers closed, many children, have no private yards to play outside. Many parents don’t take them to the park and so many kids are literally locked down in their small apartments. Have you ever tried to make a kid study and concentrate, that hasn’t played and physically moved for a while? If you have, you will understand, why so many of my social work colleagues say, that many parents have completely given up on homeschooling. They cannot make their kids study.

Domestic violence, abuse and neglect are other important issue to address. In my country, the departments for family and youth work closely together with schools, daycares, pediatricians etc. to ensure children’s welfare. When parents are overwhelmed, when children are in danger of neglect or in danger of abuse, CPS forms protective networks with schools and work out aid plans to support the whole family and protect the children. For example, teachers keep a very close eye on those kids. Social workers visit the families regularly and support the parents and children. Now with schools and daycares closed, it is much more difficult to ensure the welfare of endangered children, while at the same time the stress level in many families rises due to lost jobs and worries about income and the fact that every family member has to be home 24/7. Parents and children, don’t get the break from each other they usually have, while kids are at schools or daycares. In some families that matters a lot.

In some countries, there are even children, who don’t get proper meals now, because their families don’t have the resources to provide enough healthy food for them and without the meals children usually get at schools those kids go hungry. NPO Organisations are getting worried, that because of COVID 19 many kids don’t get their doctors appointments, their regular health screenings and in some countries, kids won’t get their vaccinations for other deadly deceases. What good did we do, if we save some children from a COVID 19 death (which scientists say is a disease that compared to adults kids handle best) but then they die or suffer lifelong consequences because of measles, hunger or domestic violence?

It is our responsibility to put children’s welfare first! We have to make sure every child is safe and gets a fair chance in life. It is our responsibility to protect children from hunger, violence, abuse and neglect. (And yes, I mean the real forms of violence and neglect and not what some helicopter people misinterpret as such, like when parents trust a child to ride a bike without supervision.)

I don’t have a solution for those problems. However, I believe it is important to voice them. Big companies complain quickly to their governments, but children’s needs will be overheard if we don’t all take on the responsibility to voice them as well. If we don’t take children’s needs and the impact the pandemic has on them into account, I and many other professional who work with youth believe within the next year, we will see the results at our child psychiatrists, our pediatricians, our counselling services, our CPS and of course, once they open again – in our schools.

Luckily, more and more professionals are speaking up now and first improvements will slowly be done in Germany. For example, our national government decided this week, that playgrounds may be opened soon again, and I truly hope my city can do that soon. That would be one important step to take some pressure from families and give children back their fundamental right for play outdoors.

Where I live we also were now able to open emergency child care groups, that were originally only meant for children of essential workers, for children who our department for family and youth confirms that they are in need of child care, because otherwise their development or safety would be endangered. So we are taking small steps towards the right direction. Let’s hope that our societies manage to handle the pandemic and to ensure the welfare of our youngest at the same time. Join me, and help voicing children’s needs during this pandemic so they will be heard.