It’s time for care, prioritising quality care for children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Better Care Network and Unicef have published a report named ‘It’s time for care, prioritising quality care for children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Challenges, opportunities and an agenda for action’ in December 2020.
The report gives interesting insights in the care of children, amongst others on children living in Child Welfare Institutions. We will use the outcomes in our human and children rights program.
Some highlights important for our program can be found below:
Though devastating, the current crisis offers an important opportunity to reimagine and transform the essential work of caring for children. Supporting and understanding parents, family members and other caregivers is crucial in order to mitigate the immediate, medium, and long-term impacts of the pandemic and ensure holistic response and recovery. Quality care for children must, therefore, be the highest priority for strategic investments, policies and programs.
When vulnerable parents and families do not have the resources to meet their basic needs, the risk of neglect and separation of children from their families increases. Extreme poverty, inadequate access to social services, conflict, disaster, disability, forced labor and discrimination have led to millions of children living in fragile care environments. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the difficulties faced by these children and families. Decades of research have showed that children’s well-being is seriously impacted by lack of family care. Family separation, combined with the inappropriate use of alternative care, particularly in institutional care setting, can lead to immediate and long-term physical, social, psychological and emotional harm.
The potential for children to be infected by COVID-19 in congregate care settings, including residential care facilities or crowded detention centers, is high given that physical distancing and other basic sanitation practices are often not fully observed. In some cases, residential facilities have closed, and children have been returned to their families without proper preparation and support being put in place. In other contexts, facilities have restricted access and contact with the outside world as part of containment measures, resulting in loss of connection between children and families and even more limited oversight, which has the potential to contribute to increased risk of neglect and violence.
Globally, the vast majority of children without parental care live in kinship care, that is, with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other relatives.28 Extended family care plays a fundamental role in enabling families to care for their children when, for example, they need to work for long periods away from home, or to migrate to other countries in search of livelihoods. Kinship care is also critical for children who experience family-based violence, abuse, and neglect, discrimination, and social exclusion. Given that the health risks of COVID-19 are particularly high for people over the age of 60 and those who are immunocompromised,29 temporary alternative care may be needed for children whose older kinship caregivers have heightened health risks, may have fallen ill and need time to recover. Others may require permanent care solutions, putting pressure on already stretched formal alternative care services.
Inadequate investment in, and support for, kinship care and the development of strong and competent foster care systems for temporary and urgent alternative care is likely to result in children being left without appropriate care. More children are at risk of neglect, homelessness, or placement in inappropriate residential care facilities. Efforts to pre-emptively and permanently scale up the capacity of family-based care and social protection systems are critical to enhancing family resilience and preventing unnecessary separation and recourse to residential care.
Shifting from a focus on eliminating risk factors towards strengths-based solutions engages children, families and communities in identifying what they are doing well and offering support to build upon a positive foundation before the cracks appear and begin to widen. Focusing on protective factors can also help actors build capacity and collaborative partnerships with other service providers, including early-childhood and youth-service systems, which are likely to enhance cross- system collaboration to support children and families and promote their resilience and well-being.
At the community level, programs that seek to address poverty and risks to children by strengthening families’ protective factors can help those facing hardship to avoid falling into crisis.
Social service providers weave protective webs of support by
• Connecting families with essential services
• Preventing separation of children from families
• Supporting quality family-based alternative care
• Reuniting families
• Providing critical mental health and psychosocial support
• Linking vulnerable families and parents with social protection schemes and economic strengthening activities.
The only way to effectively address the current crisis and avert potential long-term damage for the world’s most vulnerable children and families is to urgently strengthen child welfare systems and services.
The current coronavirus crisis requires an emergency response, but also underlines the necessity of building sustainable long-term and inclusive shock-responsive social protection systems.
Cash-transfer programs that bolster family capital are widely understood to have positive socioeconomic impacts, ranging from poverty alleviation to improved living conditions and psychosocial well-being. However, cash alone is not always sufficient to reduce the economic risks, vulnerabilities and barriers to services
that parents often face. ‘Cash plus’ interventions combine cash transfers with other types of assistance, including psychosocial and parenting support, and linkages to services. Research has identified a combination of interventions that effectively lift vulnerable households out of poverty and improve caregiving environments, resulting in positive and measurable outcomes for children in multiple areas, including health, education and protection.