The pandemic is causing all kinds of stresses but the impact on children could last a lifetime.
Children who are already in difficult conditions — in poverty or abusive situations — need special help.
Jacksonville already has a strong network of agencies designed to support children in its bid to be America’s first child-friendly city.
Now those involved in that network are developing what is titled as an “Action Plan for Systems Change and Health Equity for Children in Northeast Florida.” That’s a fancy title but it relates to street-level issues for kids.
Here is a quote from an initial plan: “Vulnerable children and young people, in particular those in public care; have chronic medical or mental health conditions; at risk for violence; displaced; and living in poverty, rural communities, on the streets, in shelters, are at increased risk.”
Society is dealing with high levels of unemployment poverty, violence, food insecurity, housing instability, less access to education and disrupted health services.
Minority children are hit hard by any disparity and especially by these new stresses.
For instance, mental health services already are spare in Jacksonville, especially for children but even they have been disrupted by the pandemic.
Parental stress could be leading to child abuse. With families in isolation, there is fear that incidents are not being reported.
For mothers, there may be reduced access to medical care, screening and immunizations.
For children with disabilities, just multiply all the stress.
Families are being hit with financial problems and the danger of evictions.
All these deficits hit children hard. How can we provide help to them?
These children in danger rely on support systems that have been disrupted in the pandemic. But Jacksonville is far from powerless to help.
So a working group has joined a consortium of cities around the nation and the world. The local effort is being led by Wolfson Children’s Hospital Players Center and the Partnership for Child Health.
Here are some of their focus areas:
Identify how children are affected by the pandemic and explore the inequities and their root causes.
Develop indicators to monitor outcomes and inequities and develop interventions that respond to them. Academic institutions would be engaged to develop the metrics.
Structure a sustainable response.
More than 40 organizations have responded to this initiative.
They represent these areas: mental health, the law, child welfare, maternal and child health, early childhood development, education and economic security.
A few issues identified in the report:
“The lack of youth voice in dialogue and discussion about the impact and response to the pandemic.”
“There has been relatively little recognition of the role of nonprofit organizations and their financial viability in mitigating the immediate impact of the pandemic, and the critical role they will play in the longer term response.”
This is an important project that shows how a caring society reacts maturely to a crisis. See the problems and take aggressive smart action to deal with them.
We need better data on quality of life indicators that affect children. If we don’t have the information, then it’ nearly impossible to chart progress.
We need young people to be invited to help craft policies in Jacksonville that affect them, not as window-dressing.
We need to provide support for kids who are not receiving it at home.
As the Jacksonville Children″s Commission goes through another transition, we need it to a powerful and effective voice for the city’s future, the logical centerpiece to lead these efforts.