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A new report details the wide-ranging toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, especially those from Black, Latino, Native American and low-income families.
The experts who authored the report are calling for swift action from federal and state government agencies to mitigate these impacts, address inequities and prepare for a future pandemic.
“… our country will need to commit to targeted and sustained investments, programs, services, supports and interventions to counteract the pandemic’s direct and indirect negative effects on child and family well-being,” said Tumaini Rucker Coker, M.D., M.B.A, FAAP, chief of the Division of General Pediatrics at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “By prioritizing these investments, we can ensure a generation of children, despite living through the COVID-19 pandemic, can have the opportunity to achieve their full potential in health and well-being.”
Dr. Coker chaired the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee that wrote the more than 200-page report “Addressing the Long-Term Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Children and Families,” which she and fellow committee members discussed during a webinar Thursday.
Authors said the pandemic impacted children’s and families’ social, emotional, physical, mental, educational and economic well-being. They detailed the increases in depression, anxiety, maternal mortality, job loss, food insecurity and substance overdose deaths. There also was declining school enrollment, falling reading and math test scores and delays in preventive care and immunizations.
The pandemic came at a time when the country already was grappling with issues like racial and income inequality, political divides and a child mental health crisis. The pandemic took the greatest toll on children and families that are Black, Latino, Native American and low-income.
“Disasters or large-scale public health events like the COVID-19 pandemic can highlight, and in some cases exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities resulting from long-standing societal inequities,” said Committee member Stephanie M. Jones, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist from Harvard University.
The committee made detailed recommendations to federal and state government agencies to address the immediate and long-term effects of the pandemic, collect more comprehensive data and prepare for the next pandemic. They include
- planning for future public health disasters with a focus on groups at greatest risk;
- funding high-poverty schools, early childhood education, behavioral health services, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, child care subsidies and other safety net programs;
- government support for paid family leave and paid sick programs;
- strengthening and expanding Medicaid coverage;
- continuing the child tax credit expansion and
- additional research and data collection.
Committee member Michelle Sarche, Ph.D., associate professor in the Colorado School of Public Health’s Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health, said the recommendations “are a path forward to recover from the harms of the pandemic and support programs and policies to rectify the inequities that have made the pandemic’s impact disproportionate.”
“Without targeted investments in programs, services, supports and interventions to counteract the pandemic’s direct and indirect negative impact on child and family well-being, the pandemic’s impacts are likely to be long lasting with negative effects not only on children and families but also on society at large,” she said.