Comment: Children Need To Be Regarded As A Higher Priority During COVID Crisis

Beginning a new series of comment pieces on this website, Clare FM’s Gavin Grace, host of Morning Focus, looks at the impact of the current pandemic on children, and asks if our youngest citizens have been overlooked in the policies designed to protect our health?

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All indications are that there will be little easing of lockdown restrictions next week. Confirmation is expected to come on Friday that the lives we’ve become increasingly used to since the middle of March will continue for the time-being at least.

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My sense is that there will be some limited changes announced (this is based on my reading of the situation, rather than any inside knowledge, to be clear) and that these will probably, and rightfully, mainly benefit those who are cocooning. People aged 70 and over will probably be permitted to exercise once a day, within the social distancing guidelines, and that’s to be welcome. Anecdotally, and according to a lot of Morning Focus listeners, some are doing this already (to cocoon is strongly advised, and not mandatory). For those who have come to feel entrapped within their homes, this will hopefully come as a welcome respite.

I want to talk about those on the other end of the age spectrum, however, because it must not be overlooked that our children are enduring a torrid time at present.

They’re not alone in this, by any means, but it must all be so confusing, for a young child. Your school is closed. You can’t play with your friends. You can’t go to visit Granny or Grandad. Your parents may not be working, for now at least, and in some homes it’s quite likely that there are higher levels of stress. Many playgrounds have closed, and some shops have even erected signs saying you’re not welcome. And if you are old enough to understand what COVID-19 is, any news you see or hear carries headline after headline about health and economic catastrophes.

And that’s the best case scenario. In an increasing number of homes, increased stress has led to domestic violence. Some teenagers have been stressing over exams too. How many of them have been sick? And how many more have had to go through the traumatic experience of saying farewell to a loved one in the past few weeks, without the usual supports that come in the way of the typical Irish funeral?

And, of course, we don’t know when it’ll all end. Though we may not like to admit it, it’s hard to see schools re-opening as normal before September, if it even happens then. 2020 will feel like a lost year for so many of our children, who have only lived for a short few years up until now.

When she was with us on the show last week, Dr. Toby Sachsenmeier reminded us that no previous generation of children, in our lifetimes, have had to be put on lockdown in this way. She added that “we don’t know what the long-term impact is going to be.” Toby’s ensuing advice was good, and it’s worth the time of all parents to listen to our conversation. But those words stuck with me.

Most kids will be fine after this, I’m sure. They’re a resilient bunch, in the main. However, more will develop issues that will last far longer than this pandemic. Parents will do all we can to help them. But children also need their State and their government to help them as well, and I don’t just mean in the long-term.

Children thrive on play, on interacting with friends and family. They don’t deserve to have even a part of their childhoods taken away. That’s happened already, by virtue of this pandemic, and that can’t be stopped.

But it can be limited in the time to come.

Our government has an obligation to implement guidelines that will protect our physical health and save lives, and that will naturally remain the top priority. It is a blessing that children are, in the main, escaping the worst physical impacts of COVID-19. But we – society, communities, government – cannot forget that children are suffering a unique type of hardship. For their good, both now and into the long-term, a greater priority must be given to permitting more social interactions outside of the home as soon as possible.

Gavin Grace hosts Morning Focus on Clare FM, each weekday from 9:00 a.m.