Even if not getting physically sick, children are being affected by COVID-19

They are experiencing trauma on a nearly unprecendented scale

June 29, 2020 6:04 am

COVID-19 has unleashed mass unemployment and economic stress, which is felt acutely by children. Photo illustration by Getty Images.

Thankfully, children have been spared the worst when it comes to the COVID-19 illness, but that doesn’t mean they have escaped its toll. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath, we are painfully aware that our kids not only witness the world around them — they are deeply wounded by it. 

The mental health of our children was already at risk, with more than 100,000 Minnesota children suffering with untreated anxiety, depression and trauma. Parents have been plunged into survival mode as the pressure mounts, with millions of people losing their jobs and health insurance. The stress, uncertainty and social isolation are affecting children’s mental health.

According to a June 16 Gallup poll, 30% of parents say their child’s emotional and mental health are suffering now. Researchers are warning that the pandemic could inflict long-term emotional trauma on an unprecedented scale. 

We see this every day.  Our children are struggling with fear, the impact of racism and trauma and worry about whether their basic needs will be met – particularly feeling safe in their neighborhoods and homes. 

That daily effect of fear is harmful regardless of age, and in children its long-term impact is more profound on their development and growth. This public health crisis is derailing our children’s potential. Now’s the time to transform children’s mental health care.

Top priorities for action now:

  1. Telehealth coverage: These are effective for most families and they improve access to care.  While not a solution for everyone, the expanded telehealth coverage Minnesota moved quickly to provide has been critical to get quick, stabilizing care to families. 
  2. Improve access to mental health care for families experiencing financial hardship: Millions of people have lost their jobs.  Many families are suddenly facing enormous financial hardship and pressure. Mental health care is health care and must be made available regardless of economic status.   
  3. Trauma-informed and culturally-responsive care: We must accept, acknowledge and take action to support children and families heal from the impact of historical and systemic racism and racialized trauma.  
  4. Invest in proven, community-based services to keep children in school and with their families: Too many children wind up in the emergency room, hospital or separated from their families in residential treatment because we don’t support effective home, school and community-based services.  These services work — they save money and they keep children in home and in school. 

At Washburn Center for Children, we meet children and families where they are — physically, emotionally and culturally. Helping children develop and grow through the trauma, anxiety and depression of these massive societal changes requires a comprehensive approach, with direct help and support in schools, at home and in community mental health clinics.

Our path forward, sparked by heartache and trauma, must create a new reality for our children. Just as our response to the systemic oppression and division in our state needs to be decisive and long-term, so too should be our response to the mental health of our kids. If a child needs help coping with everyday life in this new, tumultuous world, it is imperative that we give them accessible options and lasting opportunities for a future filled with hope.

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Tom Steinmetz
Tom Steinmetz

Tom Steinmetz is CEO of Washburn Center for Children. He began working there in 1996, initially as a therapist, program manager and trainer, providing therapeutic services for children with severe emotional and behavioral problems. He became CEO in 2017.