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COVID-19 and Other IDOs: Impacts on Risk and Protective Factors through a Child Development Lens

Learners explore the impact of COVID-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks through a developmental lens linked to the socio-ecological model.
Hello all. My name is Joan Lombardi. and I’ve been working in the field of child development for over forty years. I’m the director of Early Opportunities and a senior scholar at the Center for Child and Human Development at Georgetown University. You’ve now discussed the risk and protective factors which are so important throughout the life of the child but particularly during emergencies. Let’s turn briefly to how these risk and protective factors may vary somewhat as the child grows particularly during a crisis such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. First, let me underscore that both child rights and basic principles of child development are important, across the life span.
So for example we know that for all children that continued reliance on a primary caregiver most often one of the family is the cornerstone of healthy development. All children have the right to be free of violence in their family and in the community. This is a goal we must all strive for regardless of the age of the child yet we know the stress on families and the rates of financial hardship during a crisis contributes to increases in domestic conflict. So risk factors during these times grow for all children. Because we know that exposure to stress and poverty affects not only the mental well being of children but their health and ability to learn.
We have to work across sectors in our efforts to mitigate increasing risks especially in times like these when schools may be closed and families may be home for long periods of time. For many, in cramped quarters. Those are universal principles that cut across ages. But the risk and protective factors may also vary somewhat for children of different ages. For example newborns and children in the first months and years of life are more dependent on the primary caregiver for protection than during any other period. It is during this period of life that repeated and prolonged adversity which can be compounded during a crisis can have a profound impact on the developing brain and therefore lead to long term consequences.
Making sure that babies and very young children have trusting and consistent relationships with their primary caregiver who themselves feel supported is critical during this period. During a pandemic we have to ensure that there are social networks of support for primary caregivers so they have the ability to be responsive and protected. During a pandemic, this may look different for example supports and networks may take place by phone, radio or online. At the same time the pandemic is bringing new barriers to healthcare and access to clean water and food. All of which are critically important to pregnant women and during those early years of life.
Assuring continuity of services for safe childbirth helping families with very young children keep well through for example continuity of baby clinic appointments as well as support for adequate nutrition are critical steps in child protection. As children grow becoming toddlers they begin to more actively explore the world around them This is particularly true as they start to walk and have a growing sense of competence. There are special risks for the toddlers who may be confined to small spaces during the pandemic without access to adequate or safe space to explore and learn. At the same time consistent character continues to be important, as do routines.
Parents with toddlers can often feel overwhelmed with caregiving responsibilities Particularly if family and friends are not available to support them due to the pandemic. Adequate food and nutrition for children as well as caregivers of children and support networks that enable respite or self care during the day along with mechanisms to connect with others when they need help all remain critical . As children enter the preschool years they’re exercising a growing sense of independence and initiative yet they still need that essential protection from a responsive caregiver who can recognize and nurture their growing sense of self confidence.
During normal times preschool and childcare programs can help mitigate risk providing health, nutrition, safety and early learning opportunities as well as providing important respite for parents. During the COVID-19 pandemic many of these programs are closed. Wherever possible, community members should come together to continue to provide support for families even when programs are closed. These existing centers can be used for food distribution and sharing early learning materials as well as other essential services during the pandemic. As children continue to grow And we look at school aged children they are learning to master new skills and friendships and social interactions become even more important.
There are many benefits of school attendance and children all around the world will miss that stimulation and social supports when schools close down. While children this age can function on their own more than younger children they continue to need adult supervision as well as opportunities for learning at home school aged children, particularly girls are also at risk for taking on responsibility for caring for younger children. This happens during normal times but as particularly a risk during the pandemic. When parents are often exhausted from coping with basic challenges of keeping their families stable.
Part of child protection during this period is to assure that all children continue have learning opportunities and to not become overloaded with domestic caregiving caregiving tasks that may pose a threat to their development and both boys and girls need to be protected from the demands to work as families income shrink during the crisis. And of course, as children move into adolescence a whole new set of risks appear too often peers and social norms put growing pressure on teens presenting new temptations and behavioral risks. The social isolation and health risks that come with a pandemic add to what is already a very challenging time. conflict within the family can easily emerge as can renewed pressure for early marriage and child labor.
It may seem like teens don’t need that protective caregiver but they do. They still need an adult who shows them they care that promotes a sense of routine and protection from the pressures that they may feel in the community. At the same time, teens can be a resource for the community which in and of itself is a protective factor as they pitch in to help in the community organizing distribution, making face masks engaging in awareness raising on public health measures and other tests that support well being during the pandemic. So in the end while some of the risks in the degree of protection. There may vary throughout childhood. All children need a caring and responsible adult in their life.
A family that provides support. And in turn, a community that enables the adult family members to be responsive. During the pandemic basic needs for health and nutrition have to be met but so does social and emotional support. Let me close by saying as much as we made understand the patterns of development and risk. We can’t assume that we know about an individual child or their family. What challenges they face what protections they need until we spend time getting to know them. Listening to them.
So the very first job for anyone in child protection is to listen to families to caregivers and children and young people and empower them with knowledge support and resources while we help them, minimize risks throughout the lives of their children and especially during times of crisis.

Joan Lombardi is an international expert on child development and child and family policy. Listen to her audio recording as she outlines the impact of COVID-19 and IDOs on risk and protective factors through a developmental lens.

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Protecting Children during COVID-19 and other Infectious Disease Outbreaks

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