Addressing Pandemic Needs

The Pernicious Impact of COVID-19 on Children Demands Immediate Attention

By: Paul H. Dworkin, MD

As a pediatrician working at a children’s hospital, I am profoundly grateful for the relatively modest direct effect of COVID-19 on children as compared to adults. My colleagues are as well. As noted by the CDC, while some children are sick with the disease, adults make up most of the known cases to date.  However, the overall impact of COVID-19 on children is likely to be enormous.

Human Rights Watch warns of the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on children around the world due to widespread job loss, income loss, and economic insecurity among families leading to such issues as domestic violence, child abuse, disrupted education, food insufficiency, and decreased access to essential and life-saving healthcare services such as immunizations. The United Nations has warned that hundreds of thousands of children could die this year due to the global economic downturn sparked by the coronavirus pandemic and tens of millions more could fall into extreme poverty. While global in scope, this dire prediction includes major urban areas such as Hartford.

We must focus on meeting the acute, basic needs of families, especially those most struggling due to the economic consequences of the pandemic. A national survey of affiliates of our Help Me Grow National Center reveals the most pressing needs of families to be formula, food, diapers and wipes; childcare for essential workers; and mental health supports and services. We must rapidly mobilize to partner with foundations and donors to provide emergency support to families in need and pivot our programs and services to address families’ most pressing priorities.

In immediate response to the pandemic, the programs of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health (OCCH) are now focused on addressing the needs of vulnerable children and their families.  Select examples include our Help Me Grow National Center, with support from the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, engaging the University of Oregon’s Center for Translational Neuroscience to provide national data to policy makers and philanthropists to prioritize how best to respond to the needs of children and families.  OCCH has partnered with the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to reallocate grant funding to provide My Family is Strong! Community Care Bags to strengthen 130 Hartford families’ resilience through outreach, education, and financial support in the form of gift cards to purchase groceries. Connecticut Children’s Center for Care Coordination staff are reaching out to connect families to resources that meet basic needs, such as food services, help them navigate the complex unemployment system, and refer them to behavioral health services and supports. Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center (IPC) is monitoring changes to injury and violence patterns, including an anticipated decrease in motor vehicle collisions due to reduced traffic and an increase in child abuse and domestic violence due to stay-at-home measures and heightened stress. The IPC expects the analysis will inform public policy and the distribution of resources.

Read more of our COVID-19 blog posts here.

We are fortunate that children are not experiencing hospitalizations and the need for critical care to the same extent as adults. We must, however, not fall prey to the myth that the impact of COVID-19 on children is modest. In fact, the potential effect on vulnerable children is profound and demands our most immediate attention and action.

Paul H. Dworkin, MD is executive vice president for community child health at Connecticut Children’s, director of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health and founding director of Help Me Grow National Center. Dr. Dworkin is also a professor of pediatrics at UConn School of Medicine.  Learn more »

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