The arrival of COVID-19 has disrupted the world, putting scientists to the test as they grapple with the myriad of unknowns. Among the puzzles presented, one that cropped up is that babies and children are not succumbing to virus to the same degree as adults.
But while scientists work on finding a reason why the coronavirus has less of an impact on children, the impact on their lives is enormous and authorities and society need to keep the well-being of our future generations in mind.
For some, the challenges of staying away from school are compounded by poor housing, inaccessibility to the internet and a strong home learning environment. We are also particularly worried about the welfare of children in child protection services, and how COVID-19 is going to impact vital social care and family support services.
The closure of schools is a huge test for us to adjust and focus on supporting children’s ongoing education at home; and from here I want to hail the numerous initiatives both education authorities and individual teachers are taking.
The education minister has also commendably announced that students who don’t have access to a computer or internet connection at home will start receiving free internet access from the government, but it is of utmost importance for the government to analyse the impact this crisis will have on our children.
My fear in our new reality is the inequity that will develop in our education system as a consequence of the crisis. Some schools offer excellent online learning, and families are adapting their schedules to support their children; but we have to ensure vulnerable children do not go hurtling through cracks deepened by this crisis, where quality will become increasingly dependent on parents’ educational and spending power.
My fear in our new reality is the inequity that will develop in our education system as a consequence of the crisis
A child’s first formation months and years are crucial in determining their emotional, physical and cognitive development in later life and while kindergartens, family centres, and healthcare workers are all providing a lifeline for families with young children, it is those most in need who are less able to access these services.
I appeal to the government to step up its efforts to ensure early childhood development remains a priority. Effective public investment during this critical moment is key to avoid perpetuating the cycles of disadvantage.
Children in alternative care are particularly vulnerable as they rely on professionals and social workers for their well-being.
These caregivers and social workers are the silent heroes who are still attempting to provide this essential service, sometimes putting their own health or that of their families at risk.
We cannot afford to lose sight of the additional strain this will put on childcare services, especially when we eventually transition from a crisis response to envisioning a future post-COVID-19.
If there is anything this crisis can teach us, it is our shared vulnerability. We must draw hope from the surge in solidarity that is spurting in our communities – from NGOs involved in organising the delivery of food and hygiene equipment to families in need, to the creation of resources to help adults stuck at home with young children, or experts coming forward to advise the government.
As this crisis forces us all to take stock of the far-reaching social and economic consequences, I believe the government’s role in building a fair and sustainable recovery will be more important than ever.
And, children need to be at the forefront of this. Children are not just ‘adults in the making’, but fully fledged citizens.
If we treat them as such by sharing information, encouraging their opinions and involving them in decisions, we will be much more resilient as a society in the future.
I am convinced there will be many lessons to be drawn from this and from the way our social, educational and healthcare systems respond to the needs of the most vulnerable.
We must use this time wisely to reflect, to exchange and to learn from one another, drawing strength from the vast experience and knowledge of all members of our society to ensure that children’s rights are truly and effectively at the heart of all policymaking and decision-making, now and in the future.
Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President of Eurochild
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