And we need to pay more attention to its impact on kids
By Ted Lempert
April 8, 2020
We are living in unprecedented times. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has upended every aspect of our lives, and the uncertainty of the current situation, as well as the fear that it brings, are hard for all of us to fathom. As we shelter in place for the health and safety of ourselves, our families, and those in our communities, unsure when we will return to normal life again, I can only think about the kids in our state – especially our most vulnerable kids – the criticality of children’s advocacy, and lessons learned from the past.
Just over a decade ago, our country went through a severe economic recession, the likes of which had not been seen since the Great Depression. And here in California, kids bore the burden of that financial crisis, as child-serving programs were scaled back dramatically, with early childhood and K-12 education facing the deepest cuts of all the programs in state government.
During the last recession I personally, and we as advocates, collectively failed the state’s children. We should have pushed harder to ensure that kids were the top priority for the state. Other interests were bolder and more effective. As budgets were cut, and belts were tightened, our children suffered. To this day, I am haunted by what we allowed to happen in the aftermath of the Great Recession. In the years that followed, we fought hard to gain back the investments in our child-serving programs that were lost, finally returning to pre-recession funding levels just a couple of years ago.
As we find ourselves today in another economic downturn, one that is likely to be far worse than the one in 2008-2012, we cannot allow history to repeat itself. California children need us to be bolder and stronger this time around.
There are more than nine million children (ages birth to 17) growing up in California today. In our diverse state, 43 percent of kids are low-income, 45 percent are living in immigrant families and nearly 70 percent are children of color – too many of whom are subject to racism. While they may be spared, by the most part, from the virus itself, California children are being deeply affected by this crisis, and this is especially true for our most vulnerable kids.
Children whose families may be separated because of immigration threats.
Children who are living in fear of physical abuse.
Children who are witnessing domestic and/or community violence.
Children whose learning is disrupted as they are unable to attend school.
Children who are missing meals due to school closures.
Children whose parents are working essential jobs, and are at risk of getting sick.
Children who will miss out or be delayed in accessing important preventive health care.
Children whose parents have lost their jobs and are struggling to pay rent, and provide for their families.
Children who have been traumatized, and are facing additional trauma during these trying times.
The list goes on.
Vulnerable kids were not receiving the supports and services they needed long before this global health crisis began, and these inequities will only be exacerbated as a result of COVID-19.
The state faces an enormous challenge as it works to support and sustain public health and safety, our economy, and the future of California, and we are grateful for the tireless efforts of state and local leaders, under the direction of Governor Newsom. But our state’s leaders must also ensure that an entire generation of children does not emerge from this crisis worse off than when it began.
We must stand up collectively and push the state to prioritize kids. Together, through The Children’s Movement of California – a network of more than 3,600 diverse organizations across the state – we can send a powerful message to our leaders: we cannot repeat the mistakes of our past and we must safeguard California children. Any organization or business can be a member of The Children’s Movement and sign on to this campaign to elevate the importance of holding crucial children’s programs and services harmless and increasing targeted supports as much as possible in the upcoming 2020-21 state budget.
Children must be our top priority; our collective future and the future of the Golden State, depends on it.
Editor’s Note: In the coming weeks, we’ll be highlighting key children’s issues in California, with a focus on how they are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and providing some insight into the steps we are taking to put kids front and center now and as we emerge from this crisis. Please visit our blog for new posts, and follow us on social media for regular updates. We hope you and your loved ones remain safe and healthy during these difficult times.