Coping with the Increase in Risk Situations of Children and Youth during the COVID-19 Pandemic: An International Review

Main points:

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for children and youth around the world:
  2. Its universal impact: Scholastic difficulties have increased and gaps widened; the number of children experiencing psychological distress has grown; and the phenomena of online bullying and the exploitation of minors have escalated.
  3. Its impact on children already in situations of risk and danger prior to the pandemic (some of the children are from vulnerable populations): There has been a rise in the number of children at risk of suicidality, the number of children living in poverty and nutrition insecurity, and the number of children exposed to abuse and neglect. Detection has been problematic, and there have been difficulties in the provision of responses in the community and out-of-home placement arrangements.
  4. Documentation on how different countries and organizations have coped with the challenges posed by the pandemic in terms of the detection and treatment of children and youth is still relatively sparse. On the other hand, there is quite a substantial body of written material elaborating recommendations and guidelines for measures to be instituted by governments and social organizations in order to minimize the difficulties in these areas. This review focuses on these measures.
  5. Several basic principles emerge from the numerous recommendations and guidelines formulated by international scholars and organizations for governments and social organizations, pertaining to each of the areas discussed in this review. They are:
    • Expansion of activities to reduce the risk factors impacting child welfare, including the provision of a financial and nutritional safety net; the supply of digital learning devices and access to the internet for low-income families; the implementation of comprehensive community programs to enhance social solidarity and reduce risk factors in neighborhoods of vulnerable populations
    • Provision of training for safe, optimal activity in the digital environment for children, parents, and professionals to avert the phenomena of bullying and the exploitation of children on the web, and as a means to obtain social support
    • Designation of child-protection services and out-of-home placement arrangements as essential services, and the institution of measures to expand and adapt these activities in a period of restricted mobility and a heightened need for isolation
    • Provision of training to professionals on the identification of children in distress via digital means, including in the absence of direct reports, as a basis for the delivery of psychological support to children experiencing tension and psychological pressure; as a means to identify children who suffer from neglect, abuse or are at risk of self-harm; and as a resource to help assess the potential danger of self-harm or suicidality
    • Greater involvement of the public at large in processes of detection and protection of children at risk by means of broad social campaigns to raise public awareness of the upsurge in child neglect and abuse; to enlist the public’s help in the detection and protection of children at risk; and to disseminate information on how to be of assistance
    • Proactive professional activity to create ongoing, frequent contact with children. It is recommended that teachers, therapists, and child-protection officers initiate ongoing, frequent contact with children to ask after their health and to provide support, advice, and help. Apart from offering scholastic assistance, this could be a means to detect children in situations of neglect and abuse, and to refer them to assistive agencies
    • Enlargement of the workforce in the principal child services.  Steps should be taken to enlarge the workforce of services supporting child development, protection and therapy: Educational staff – to provide scholastic assistance, especially to children who find school difficult; counselors and educational psychologists – to expand psychological support; service staff – to protect children and broaden detection; and staff of out-of-home placement – to work at full capacity and ensure maximal support for foster families
    • Increased channels of direct, digital support for children and for the dissemination of information about them. For example, expanding the activity of children’s hotlines (whether telephone or internet), and conducting virtual meetings between children and experts to impart ways of coping with stress and to answer questions, and for referral to protection and therapeutic agencies
    • Encouragement of children to help their peers, and the provision of training to this end. For example, it has been recommended that children be guided in ways to detect peers struggling with school, to help those who need help to perform in a digital environment, to detect children in psychological distress or experiencing neglect or abuse, and to refer them to supportive, protection, and therapeutic agencies
    • Involvement of children in policymaking processes affecting their lives. For example, in policymaking processes related to child safety on the internet; or the design of comprehensive community programs aimed, among other things, at the prevention of situations of risk among children, and at child protection

For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in English, press here.

For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in Hebrew, press here.