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Changing the Narrative, Coronavirus, Health & Science, Op-eds

When Home Is Not Always Safe: The Impact of COVID-19 On Children And Youth

By Shirley Plantin

Illustrate home

Millions of our children and youth have been home for nearly six months in the attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. The silver lining? Parents and children are home together. What can possibly go wrong? 

Well, for some children, everything.

Impact on children and youth

The word HOME is fully loaded with different connotations for children and youth who use schools, afterschool programs, and extra-curricular activities as a way out of their homes. Often the first abuse — sexual, domestic, verbal, psychological — happens in the home. Many youths have their first experiences with rejection within their home, whether due to their sexuality, the color of their skin, their immigration status, or other challenges. 

Some children do not see their home as a place to lay their heads. Instead, they see it as a place where they are servants in the household, and without any family ties and bonds. Many just do not have a home because they are either houseless or experiencing home insecurity. The growing fear that this virus will continue to keep youth mostly at home is frightening for many.

Our youth continue to face tumultuous shifts affecting their mental health, and livelihood. Children and youth have shifted their focus from times of celebration and the process of transitioning grade levels to worrying about sickly family members, assisting with paying bills, and adapting to new norms. Students highlight isolation, off-sleep schedules, lack of motivation, and change in overall relationships as short-term effects. Common emotions vary from loneliness, sadness, insomnia, and stress across all ages. 

Impact on parents

This pandemic is challenging parents all over the United States physically, financially, and emotionally. The physical obstacles have a direct fundamental relationship to the emotional battles that parents have been facing. Not being able to provide for your family during these unpredictable times can lead to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and sometimes shame — thus leading to tensions and, often, domestic violence. 

Low-income and immigrant communities have even greater barriers during these difficult times. Some of the most notable are language and technological literacy. Parents have had to add the role of teacher to their responsibilities, as they also transition to either working remotely or being unemployed. This proves especially problematic when the technological requirements for students require a level of comprehension that many parents simply do not have. 

Parents struggling with language barriers have a difficult time understanding many of the assignments their children are asked to complete. These barriers will only augment as distance learning becomes the new normal for the new academic year in the fall. 

Mitigating the damage

As the summer winds down and students prepare for the next school year to begin, the stressors of this past summer come to face a new reality. As the nation struggles to return to some sense of normalcy and as social distancing becomes the new standard, children and youth worldwide will have to assimilate and acquire new skill sets to adapt and cope with learning and socializing. 

To mitigate the damage, parents and caregivers must monitor their children’s state of mind, constantly check-in, and be honest about both the state of the virus and their fears. More importantly, parents and caregivers must create a safe space conducive to open communication and a feeling of belonging. 

Now more than ever, the mental health, emotional health and overall well-being of our children and youth will be challenged because home is not a safe and welcoming environment for many of them

In our analysis, and as we grapple with the decision on how to re-open, let’s be sure to consider the well-being of all children and youth. This may not address all of their challenges and concerns, but it will at least give them peace at home. 

Ms. Plantin is the Chief Executive Consultant for U-Turn Youth Consulting Firm. Ketia Pierre, Stephanie Desarmes, and Jensy Matoute of Team U-turn contributed to this article.


Letters and op-eds are subject to light editing for clarity and to meet The Haitian Times editorial guidelines.

Aug. 20, 2020

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