|DELCO & MONTCO Kids Not Out of the COVID Woods Yet
“I wasn’t dealing with certain [mental health] things correctly,” said Tanveer Kaur, a Senior at Upper Darby High School. “I needed to talk to it out with someone who wasn’t family and was a trusted adult in my community – at school – that I could lean on.”
Children and teens are still reeling from the turmoil of COVID. The constant worry of the contagion coupled with social isolation undermined their mental health, and turned their school lives – a lifeline for so many kids – upside down.
Two new Children First county reports released this week detail the impact of COVID on children and youth in Montgomery County and Delaware County, and the numbers are deeply troubling.
MENTAL HEALTH TOOK A HIT
Calls from Delco youth to the Safe2Say hotline spiked by 43%; Montco youth calls soared by an alarming 103%, nearly six times greater than the state increase. Parents watched as their children struggled but there just weren’t enough mental health resources to meet the staggering need.
Maya Noy, an Upper Darby mom of a teenage daughter, shared her experience, “I have witnessed so many young people failing to thrive because of the lack of adequate mental health supports. Bottom line: we need to be proactive.”
CHILD POVERTY: GONE YESTERDAY, BACK TOMORROW
Around 5,000 children were lifted out of poverty across the two counties thanks to the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Great news, but, sadly, it will be short-lived because federal lawmakers refused to extend the CTC and families don’t have the help to stay above the financial watermark, especially since inflation hasn’t abated.
EARLY CHILDHOOD WAS DECIMATED AND LEARNING WAS STUNTED
The floor dropped out beneath child care and pre-k. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly a third of Delco and a quarter of Montco child care providers shut their doors permanently. Early childhood teachers in those counties left the industry in droves because of the poverty-level wages – they could make on average 21% more working in retail or fast food.
While other parts of our economy are starting to recover, the early childhood education (ECE) sector is not. Staffing shortages are still keeping classrooms closed, and kids are missing out on their one chance for an early education. More than 2,100 Delaware County children can’t go to child care or pre-k because there just aren’t enough qualified teachers. Montgomery County fares a bit better with about 1,000 children in ECE limbo but that’s still too many.
PSSA results will be out soon to tell us the extent of PA students’ learning loss and we should brace ourselves. A national educational assessment of 1.6 million American students found that, on average, students had fallen five months behind in math and four months behind in reading by the end of the 2020-21 school year.
PLANS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Time alone will not heal the COVID wounds on children and teens; community support and government intervention are vitally needed to address the immediate and long-term problems. Lawmakers have the power to improve our schools, bolster the early childhood education sector, and help our children heal. Check out the recommendations and let your state legislators know where you stand on these issues. Our children are counting on us.