While the data surrounding Covid-19 is always sketchy, and seems to change every day, we can still say with some confidence that children are not the main drivers of the pandemic.
We also know that there are negative effects for those most at risk if the schools do not open. Mental and physical health suffers due to lack of sufficient food (missing two meals a day during the school week).
Children are also especially vulnerable to abuse during the pandemic, says child psychologist Yo Jackson, PhD, associate director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network at Penn State. Research shows that increased stress levels among parents is often a major predictor of physical abuse and neglect of children, she says.
“Even parents who have great child management skills and great bonds with their kids are going to be tested,” says Jackson. “There’s a perfect storm happening in millions of homes for kids to be at greater risk for these negative interactions.”
Decades of experience and research indicates that when children are out of school for prolonged periods of time, their is a greater chance of exposure to physical, emotional and sexual violence increases. Their mental health can deteriorate. They are more vulnerable to child labor and less likely to break out of the cycle of poverty. For the most marginalized, missing out on school — even if only for a couple of weeks — can lead to negative outcomes that last a lifetime.
For girls, especially those who are displaced or living in poor households, the risks are even higher. When girls remain out of school they are at higher risks of sexual exploitation and abuse.
In a rural area like ours, poorer families or those with special needs, who rely on schools will bear the brunt, missing meals, support in times of distress, health screenings and therapeutic services.
Certainly, risk mitigation and advanced health precautions need to be put in place. But the risks of keeping schools closed outweigh the health risks caused by the coronavirus.