As of today, the coronavirus has infected an estimated 138,000 people around the world, with 5,000 deaths. We know the true numbers are almost certainly higher, and that the toll this pandemic will take in lost lives, economic hardship and human suffering will be devastating.
And although experts warn that it is the elderly and those with compromised respiratory or immune systems who are most at risk, we also know that children everywhere are negatively affected. For some, like my eight-year-old daughter, it’s just a scary time. She doesn’t want her parents to go to work and get sick. But for children in the child welfare, juvenile justice, healthcare and immigration systems, there are direct impacts that we must recognize and prepare to mitigate.
Children in foster care have a higher rate of acute health conditions than the general population. The huge numbers of children being held in institutional settings – including older youth in group homes and immigrant children in detention facilities, are at heightened risk of becoming infected. Other children in states across the US who are being shuttled from night to night, sleeping in case workers’ offices or motels, are also more likely to be exposed to the virus. And while many of these young people probably will not become seriously ill, they will have their educations interrupted, be removed from their communities and suffer added emotional and psychological harm from the isolation or quarantine.
As college campuses shut down and send students home, foster youth who have aged out of the system often have no home to go to. For now it appears most schools are allowing students to remain in dorms and campus apartments, but if that changes, former foster youth – who already face huge hurdles to graduate – will find it very difficult to stay in school. They face a litany of bad outcomes if that happens, including homelessness, sexual exploitation and incarceration.
The pandemic is putting the stark needs of vulnerable kids into sharper focus. It is arriving at a time when government policies are putting more children at risk through cuts to nutrition and healthcare assistance, while draconian immigration measures are forcing immigrant families to remain in the shadows, unable to access vital public services. Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic is driving more children into an already overburdened foster care system. It is essential that lawmakers in Washington repair our fraying social safety net and keep families together instead of driving them apart.
Just like every other organization, Children’s Rights is feeling the impact. And it’s coming at us as we are driving the most aggressive docket and the broadest array of issues impacting children in our 20-plus year history. Our lawyers are working on cases in 15 states that are at varying stages from investigation to court filings, to reform monitoring. They are pivoting from endless air and ground travel to virtual meetings with advocates, co-counsel, judges, and young people. We are learning new tricks for how to stay efficient and emotionally and psychologically connected to each other, because nothing matters more than getting this job done.
The children need us and we remain relentless in our commitment to protecting them, especially in this time.
Thank you for your support.
Hold your kids close. Elbow bump everyone else – and stay well.