Children, the silent victims of the COVID-19 pandemic

Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier

June 10, 2021

While the COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis, it is also a socio-economic crisis that has threatened children’s rights. Estimates show that the number of poor people in Latin America may increase from 67.4 million to 90 million. Children and their families are expected to suffer disruptions in basic social services on a large scale, which would affect their access to food, shelter, minimum income, and safe social interaction.

These disruptions create stress among children’s parents and caretakers. Children also feel this stress. These heightened levels of stress could even lead to violence at home. In homes where adults have lost their jobs or whose jobs have temporarily stopped, it is possible that families live from home to home or even in motels. Sometimes the solution is to leave children with other family members, which changes their routines. Routines are important for children’s stability in their lives. When there are changes in children’s routines, they create confusion, stress, and, even, trauma. It is possible that these transitions also interrupt children’s education. In Florida, in a single district, there are 70,000 children who are missing in the school system. These are children who have not returned to school. When social workers start looking for these children, they find them living with other family members or in motels. Since life circumstances are so fluid, their caretakers have not been able to enroll them in school again. In other cases, children do not have the resources to connect to their classroom using technology. This may result in children losing their school year, which causes them to feel inferior or lose their motivation to continue their studies.

In the event of losing a parent or caretaker, the family may fall into poverty. Their financial recovery may take years. Poverty can also mean lack of food for a family. Child malnutrition does not allow a child’s brain and body to develop as they should and has lifelong consequences for that minor, which would have certain implications for the child’s development and learning ability. Another possibility after losing a caretaker is that children may enter foster care. A church may become an influence in this area by involving itself in the process or having families in training to offer foster care. Losing a loved one, their home, and family environment can be traumatic for children. They need the company of their friends and special people from church like their bible-school teachers or a pastoral person. Helping to provide counseling resources is also important. 

In poorer neighborhoods, childcare facilities have closed because they do not have the resources to adapt the center to comply with COVID-19 prevention and safety measures. Mothers in these neighborhoods cannot return to work until they find childcare for their children. That continues to postpone financial recovery at home. Since there is no financial security, families are forced to live with other family members or friends, increasing the already high risk to become infected with the virus.

How can the church respond amid all this? The church may become informed on resources for poor families, such as federal aids, and become a part of collaborations to create resources for immigrant families since they do not have access to federal aid. The church may also create informal networks among congregations and social agencies, and work with social services to stay in touch with children who have had to go into foster care. 

The church may become informed on resources for poor families, such as federal aids, and become a part of collaborations to create resources for immigrant families since they do not have access to federal aid. The church may also create informal networks among congregations and social agencies, and work with social services to stay in touch with children who have had to go into foster care.

Let us look at children’s spiritual development to strengthen families with children, start conversations with them, and accompany them in their spiritual journeys. From birth until five years of age, faith consists of a basic sense of trust or distrust. It begins to take shape by means of routine care, love, and play rituals. During this stage, children develop primal images of God based on their experiences with others, especially those who take care of them. This is why stable relationships with caretakers are so important. Children’s primary caretakers in their lives help them form their sense of trust and love, which is necessary for faith. From the ages of 3 to 8, children interpret their spiritual experiences using their perceptions and intuition; they see God as the God of miracles and use play to explore their ideas and the spiritual symbols of the spiritual communities to which they belong. It is not unusual to see children imitating in play what they see in Sunday services. They are very sensitive to religious stories, which is why they are not introduced to stories of a punishing God or demons since they foster fear and rejection of biblical stories.

Children need their own space to discover and create images that express their connections to their spiritual experiences and the social world where they live. Many times they will take a biblical story and adapt it to what is happening in their social environment. For example, a child may imagine their father as Samson protecting his migrant family.

It is important to pay attention to how we introduce and present God in our conversations, sermons, and teachings. If we talk about God within the sphere of grace at home and at church (i.e., God loves us and is always with us), we create a positive attitude that can transform into a source of health and power for our children. However, if we present a punishing God, who has abandoned us, or introduce a devil as an entity who moves around us, then this might result in anger with God, projected unto us; fear; depression; hopelessness; and child sickness. We have the power to bring health, grace, and hope to our children’s lives. 

During this pandemic, some congregations have transmitted their services online, but not all of them have offered something for children. We can achieve this by planning together and creating a program that includes songs, stories, and crafts. Most importantly, we should create a space where children feel cared for and where they may tell their own stories. We can listen to them during a virtual snack time. We can send them a package with crafting materials that they can use whenever we meet. 

An indirect way to strengthen them is by creating small online groups with parents who have children around the same age, so that children may socialize and pray together in a virtual setting. This helps lessen families’ stress and can be complemented with humor and laughs as well as sharing similar problems and triumphs. This strength brings home a positive force for children’s lives.

Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier is a practical theologian and author of the book Listen to the Children: Conversations with Immigrant Families, published by Judson Press. She is the coordinator of relations with theological entities in the Association for Hispanic Theological Education.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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