COVID-19 OUTBREAK AND ITS AFTERMATH: A CALL TO ACTION: PROTECTING CHILDREN WITHOUT OR AT RISK OF LOSING PARENTAL CARE
impact of the COVID-19 outbreak and long-term consequences on children and
youth around the world
The current COVID-19
outbreak has laid bare the challenges we face in protecting and promoting the wellbeing of children, young
people, their families, and communities, especially those in vulnerable situations worldwide. As the
pandemic expands its reach, there will be not only short but long-term negative
impact on children’s health, development, and overall wellbeing.
The outbreak, the containment
measures imposed and their unintended immediate consequences represent only the beginning
of the challenges we will face. All projections point to an extended and deep global
economic crisis. The consequences will be felt by families all over the world;
no country, no community will be spared. According
to some estimates, “the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could push half a billion more people into poverty” unless
urgent action is taken. Someestimate we could see a reversal of approximately a
decade of progress in reducing poverty.
And even when we will all
feel the long-term consequences of the pandemic, existing inequalities and vulnerabilities will dictate
the impact of this crisis in each region, country, or household. We are already
seeing that under-resourced hospitals and fragile health systems are likely to
be overwhelmed. This may be further exacerbated by a spike in cases, as up
to 75% of people in least developed countries lackaccess to soap and
water.”Income losses are expected to exceed $220 billion in developingcountries.
With an estimated 55% of the global population having no access to social
protection, many will be left to fend for themselves without access to income,
welfare support, or social safety net to fall back on.
In addition, the growing
number of families on the move – forcibly
displaced by conflicts, climate change, and other driving factors - is likely to
even further increase due to the rise of poverty and the potential consequent violence
and conflicts that this could generate. Today, already 52% of all refugees and
12% of migrants worldwide are children.
Over 89% of
the students currently enrolled worldwide in education are out of school
because of COVID-19 closures – representing
1.54 billion children and youth enrolled in school or university. Three hundred
million primary school children who depend on school meals are missing out due
to closures triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, which could increase
food insecurity. Additionally,school closures disrupt learning for
children and young people living in vulnerable conditions, unable toaccess
distance learning tools, or whose schools lack the capacity to offer them, hence
deepeningcurrent inequalities. Some of them may not return to school
once the outbreak is contained and the lockdown is lifted.
Some families are living in
overcrowded conditions, from inadequate and insufficient housing arrangements in cities and
shanty dwellings to warzones or refugee settlements. In many of these cases, entire
families share a room or makeshift tent or hut, and hygiene and self-isolation
may be deemed impossible.
without or at risk of losing parental care are among the most vulnerable
While data suggests that children
often do not show significant ailment from the virus, they are nonetheless exposed to it
and are already suffering from the lockdown due to school closures, and other isolation
measures. Their care situation will also be impacted if their caregivers at
home or in alternative care settings fall ill or perish.
Of the 2.2 billion children
worldwide8, an estimated 140 million have lost one or both parentsdue to various
reasons. Furthermore, SOS Children’s Villages estimates that approximately
10% of all children (1
in 10) worldwide are at risk of losing or have already lost the care of their
Additionally, we learned
from the past Ebola epidemic that at least 16,600 children lost a parent or caregiver, while 3,600 lost
both parents. The projected reach and scope of this current pandemic could dwarf
these numbers and we must ensure that child protection systems are prepared to
respond to it by preventing unnecessary family separation and guaranteeing good
quality alternative care when needed.
The socio-economic impact of
COVID-19 will be felt hardest by the world’s most vulnerable
children. The measures imposed will
risk plunging them further into hardship and potentially bringing millions of children into poverty.
Children without or at risk of losing parental care are particularly exposed to
these mounting challenges, compounding these conditions of vulnerability to
situations of fragile family environments or living in alternative care
In many of
the countries where SOS Children’s Villages provides services, we are already
seeing these challenges. Families within our family support programmes are
experiencing increased fragility due toloss of
income, lack of access to health and education services, and limitations or
interruptions of family strengthening programmes upon which they depend.
Children already in
alternative care placements are having additional challenges in this context
too. From our experience directly in the field, we know that the lockdown is already
restricting or even eliminating visits from their families of origin. There are
reports that these restrictions are in some cases indefinite.
We have also seen a
reduction of access, visits, and contact with social workers and specialized
experts in charge of assessing their situation during and after placement or of
addressing specific and individual treatment for some children. While we see
care professionals continue to support children and young people, and
peer-to-peer support remains available, we need to be mindful of the negative
long-term impact the reduced services will have.
The temporary or permanent
closures of some care facilities put children in absolute danger, at times of death.
We are learning that some children may be sent back from their care placement
to families of origin who are not in a position to care for them and guarantee
their protection, exposing them to potential neglect and abuse.
Finally, young people aging
out of care and transitioning into independent living are facing extremely fragile situations. Some of
them are losing their jobs and lack protection and safety nets to survive.
Some are unable to connect remotely to continue their education and may lack
the resources and family support to overcome the anxiety and uncertainty that
the isolation and lockdown may create.
For all these reasons, we
call on governments to accelerate preparedness to support those living in the most
vulnerable circumstances. Governments must mitigate the long-term adverse consequences
of the pandemic on the livelihoods and wellbeing of individuals and societies
as a whole.
SOS Children’s Villages International calls on governments and international
institutions to prioritise children without or at risk of losing parental
All actions to address the pandemic should secure the full respect
of children’s rights. All children’s rights must be protected, promoted, and taken into
consideration in the response to the COVID- 19 outbreak and its aftermath.
The best interests of the child must be the primary consideration when developing
these measures, which should abide by the principles of non-discrimination,
right to survival and development, and participation as enshrined in the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children and young people must be
actively engaged and participate in decisions pertaining to their wellbeing and
Children without or at risk of losing parental care should be
recognised and formally classified as a priority group when developing short and long-term
measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath given the
increased risks and conditions of vulnerability they experience, and which are
projected to worsen due to the pandemic and its long-term impacts.
Child welfare and protection services and workers must be
designated as essential and resourced accordingly (including personal protective
gear) during the lockdown and isolation measures. Social workers are at the forefront to contain and
mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our children, families, and communities. No resources should be
spared to ensure their wellbeing, health, protection, training, preparedness, and labour rights so
that they can continue to do so.
Social protection services that support families’
income and wellbeing should be scaled up.
This includes, among others, implementing or augmenting cash
transfer programs, improving access to health, education, disability services,
and housing during and after the outbreak; and directly delivering food,
hygiene items and kits, education/play materials; enhancing connectivity access
for remote education to bridge the digital divide, and to provide parenting
support; and expanding access to mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS)
to address the consequences of isolation on children and their families.
Inter-agency coordination among different areas of government and
with non-governmental organisations delivering services to the community must be
strengthened to address the multidimensional support that children in
alternative care or in fragile family environments need, and ensure effectiveness
and efficiency of interventions.
Safeguarding prevention and support must be redoubled. In-person
monitoring of children, families and care settings must continue to reduce
risks of abuse, violence, and neglect of children during lockdown. This can be
complemented with enhanced reporting mechanisms, innovative long-distance and
remote monitoring processes, direct access for children and parents to
hotlines, as well as dissemination of age-appropriate information and resources.
Ensure that progress achieved in quality in alternative care is
not jeopardized in the roll-out of the response measures and the long term plans;
and continue aligning ongoing and new measures with the UN Guidelines for the
Alternative care of Children (UNGL)and with the
related-commitments made through the adoption of the 2019 UN Resolution on the
Rights of the Child on children without parental care– including:
o Robust and
adequate gatekeeping and monitoring processes ensuring the necessity and suitability of every child’s placement and avoiding one-size-fits-all
solutions when selecting alternative care placements. Assessment mechanisms
should be adapted to situations of lockdown and isolation when necessary.
supported and resourced care settings to ensure the emotional,
psychological, physical, educational wellbeing and development of all children
in alternative care. This must include maintaining contact between the child
and his or her family of origin, albeit remotely during lockdown. Care settings
should be equipped with education and didactic tools, as well as space for
recreation and exercise to ensure the physical and emotional wellbeing of
children while in lockdown.
and prompt process for the reintegration of children in their families of
Planned, supported, supervised and suitable reintegration of a
child should continue to be made on a case-by-case
basis, giving due consideration to the child’s best interests.
Regarding the readiness of the family to receive the child, support needs of
the family should be assessed and met to ensure a successful reunification.
Monitoring must continue during lockdown periods, guaranteeing access to
adequate support if necessary. Closures of alternative care settings must not
force unplanned reintegration without these considerations.
alternative care placements should be foreseen and planned for, as short
and/or long-term loss of caregivers (who may fall sick or die due to the
pandemic) may lead to additional care placement needs. Any expansion of the
system should follow the quality standards and be aligned with the UNGL.
Improve and scale-up support and protection of care leavers who are
faced with increased uncertainty, risks and vulnerability in the context of
lockdown and isolation during the immediate response. In the long term they
might be confronted with a deep recession and have far less opportunities for
an independent life:
mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) to help
them cope with the lockdown and isolation.
direct social protection support (through the delivery of resources and
goods; access to training, education and didactic materials; increased
employability opportunities; direct cash transfers; housing allowance).
youth-led initiatives and peer-to-peer support and establishment of
networks to provide guidance and outreach.
Substantially enhance the protection of children on the move by ensuring
that the most vulnerable children, including unaccompanied migrant and refugee
children, benefit from adequate care services as nationals.
The time to act for the
global community to prevent short-term and long-term harm for individuals and societies as a whole is now.
We recognise that these are extraordinary times, requiring bold action, political
will, commitment and an “all hands on deck” approach.
Children’s Villages stands ready to share our expertise and do our part to
secure the rights of all children without or at risk
of losing parental care. We can only do this in collaboration with the global community. We need to come
together to help every child to build a future, support every family to stay strong, and strengthen the well-being of societies.
Effective collaboration and
coordination among governments, civil society organisations, care providers, families
and children themselves, are not only desirable but essential to counter
projections of the increased need for care and support of children and
Promoting and protecting the
rights of the child and investing to support the most vulnerable children and young
people to develop to their full potential is a moral obligation. It is also
critical to reduce poverty and inequalities, and to reinforce social peace and
COVID-19 should never be used as a
reason or excuse to regress or neglect the protection of the rights of all
children, especially those most vulnerable. Achievements the global community
made in raising standards of quality alternative care for children have to be
upheld and further promoted.
Supporting children and families today
can help prevent further need of alternative care placements tomorrow. Investing in children and
families today means investing in the future and in the well-being of future