Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years has been especially challenging for children and families. Children themselves shouldered a disproportionate burden to protect adults in their households and community members who were at increased risk for severe disease. The pandemic resulted in prolonged periods of school closures, particularly early on and in under-resourced school districts, and significant school absences as COVID-19 spread through communities and schools in waves. Families were often left with inconsistent schooling and daycare options that had harmful impacts on educational and well-being outcomes for children while also heightening challenges around workforce engagement for caregivers—particularly women with lower levels of education, many of whom had to leave their jobs to care for children at home. Reflecting the legacy of systemic racism and historic disparities in health care, impacts were not felt equally, with children and families of color disproportionately experiencing adversity in illness, widening educational achievement gaps and economic impacts. Most importantly, about 200,000 children lost a parent or grandparent during this period.
The duration of this pandemic has compounded challenges that were arising for families before COVID-19. Prolonged isolation along with family and community impacts from COVID-19 accelerated a behavioral health epidemic in children that has led to significant increases in depression, anxiety, and suicidality among some children and adolescents. And many programs that form the foundation of early childhood, including child care and home visiting programs, as well as critical safety nets for families, such as WIC and SNAP, were profoundly disrupted.
As an abating crisis ushers in a period of recovery for children and families, there is an opportunity to further develop new partnerships that have emerged during the pandemic to reshape how we build better systems and programs to address the challenges that families are facing. New school-based collaboratives between health care, public health, and school leaders provide a timely opportunity to reassess the future of school-based health programs, particularly those addressing the mental health needs of children (for example in Boston, Michigan, Baltimore, and Arizona). Rapid acceleration of technologic solutions to deliver services to families in their communities provide an engine to modernize the way families receive needed services moving forward. Innovative policies and programs put in place in response to the pandemic to provide financial support to children and ensure continuity of health insurance coverage provide a roadmap for investment in children moving forward. Importantly, many of these new policies are at risk when the public health emergency expires.
It is in that spirit, on the heels of a generational crisis, that PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and AcademyHealth are proud to partner on convening PolicyLab Forum 2022, inviting interdisciplinary stakeholders to Philadelphia for a two-day event that can be a jumping off point for new programming and partnerships to improve the health of children and families. From a foundation of research and practice, exciting sessions and speakers will tackle emerging opportunities related to health equity, behavioral health, intergenerational health, health care coverage and access, adolescent health and more. The event promises to be a moment to meet children’s health leaders from the Pennsylvania region and across the county, reconnect with colleagues, and craft a vision for a stronger future for children and families.
Please join us on May 9-10. We look forward to reconnecting and beginning to partner on the work ahead to help children and families regain ground.