The world is facing a global care crisis that we must urgently address.
When children live in unstable family environments or lose crucial family ties at an early age, it can have irreversible consequences for the rest of their lives.
This is what we see in our work, every day.
We see it when we meet children like eight-month-old Aleksander * and his 10-year-old sister Natalyia, who live in Ukraine. Tragically, they recently lost their mother, who was raising them as single parents. The local child protection authorities left them in the care of their father, Ivan. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ivan lost his job and was unable to adequately support the children either.
The pandemic exacerbated the suffering of children like Alexander and Natalyia around the world.
The pandemic and the measures taken to mitigate it have had some negative effects on all children, families and communities. But it hit the most vulnerable hardest.
Millions of people like Ivan, who were already struggling to make ends meet before COVID-19, now face many additional responsibilities and stresses, finding it nearly impossible to effectively care for their children.
Children who suffer disproportionately
Many children have lost their parents or other primary caregivers to the virus. According to a study published in The Lancet, “more than 1.5 million children worldwide have lost at least one parent, custodial grandparent or grandparent who lived with them due to COVID-19 related death during the first 14 months of the pandemic ”. This suggests that for every two adults who die from COVID-19, one child is left without a caregiver.
These children are often cared for by another family member, who often struggles with the additional financial burden. Meanwhile, orphaned children who cannot be cared for by a family member are placed in the care of the state, something that has a lasting impact on their lives.
But it is not just children who lost a primary caregiver who are suffering due to the pandemic.
The pandemic has left hundreds of millions of children living in increasing poverty, social exclusion and even hunger. Many families, who have not experienced a death related to the pandemic, struggle to stay afloat and find themselves unable to meet the most basic needs of their children.
The anxiety and mental health problems caused by the pandemic are also devastating families and consequently children. Many parents and other primary caregivers are under unprecedented pressure due to financial insecurity, lack of child care, school closings, and limited or no access to health care or other social services and benefits. Mental health and psychosocial support needs are not adequately recognized and services are often not available.
This has led to an increase in child abuse and neglect. And many parents resorted to desperate measures, such as firing their children. The number of children placed in alternative care within our programs, because caregivers cannot continue to care for them, increased by 26 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.
Children themselves have been telling us how the pandemic has negatively affected their lives. Some said they no longer felt safe at home.
The # CovidUnder19 initiative’s global survey, involving more than 26,000 children and young adults from 137 countries, showed that children living in alternative care have often felt worried, bored or sad during the pandemic.
Young adults have also suffered disproportionately during these difficult times. Many of those who left our care programs shortly before the pandemic came back to us for support and said they had lost their jobs, were unable to continue their education remotely, or were unable to pay their rent.
And this child care crisis continues to grow.
Delays and unequal access to vaccination in many regions of the world are putting more and more children and caregivers at risk, leaving many more children at risk of losing their parents and caregivers.
We cannot stand by and let this continue.
The pandemic has exposed an ongoing care crisis in every corner of the world. While some governments have established emergency support for families, in some contexts, support has been non-existent.
Civil society stepped up to help meet the most urgent needs of families and children. However, this does not provide a long-term sustainable solution.
What will be needed to resolve this unprecedented crisis is political will and financial commitment.
Governments must lead the response to this urgent crisis to avoid further harm to individuals, families and society as a whole.
This requires a systematic, coordinated and well-sourced emergency response that targets the most vulnerable. This includes services for all children and their families, such as education, health, mental health and psychosocial support, parental support, as well as other direct support services such as cash transfers, universal child benefit or other support measures for children. income.
Better access to vaccines around the world is also essential: it is the only way to contain the pandemic. It has never been clearer to all of us that we can only protect our own health by protecting everyone’s health.
And finally, governments must invest in child protection systems that can address long-term care needs. This gives each child a better chance to succeed in life.
The private sector, civil society, children and their families must be part of the solution together with governments. This is the only way that children like Aleksander and Nataliya can get a fair shot at life.
We all have to do our part. Everything is hands on. The world will be a better place if all children receive love and support.
* All names changed.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.