This article is a part of an ongoing series that examines equity during COVID-19 in early childhood and how this crisis impacts young children and families of color disproportionately in health, education, and geography across North Carolina. An introduction to the series can be found here.
Infants and toddlers of color, currently in their most critical period of life for rapid brain development and foundational growth, are experiencing negative effects from the COVID-19 pandemic that is disproportionately affecting families of color. That stress is coming on top of the effects of systemic inequities in health, education, and employment that families of color were already facing. A new report by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) suggests prioritizing families of color with young children in COVID-19 relief efforts and building more equitable systems going forward.
Children and families of color often experience racism through both direct, discriminatory interactions and systemically, through laws, institutions, and social norms. Racist housing practices through “redlining” that limited a family’s access to safe housing, good-paying jobs, quality schools, and affordable health care have displaced Black, Latinx, and immigrant children and families into low income neighborhoods, which are more likely to be located near polluting industries and toxic waste sites while also lacking access to sufficient community resources such as grocery stores, child care centers, and public green spaces. So, for example, a Black pregnant mom who is not being listened to by her maternity care provider during pregnancy and is also facing housing discrimination, lack of green space to exercise, exposure to pollution, and lack of access to healthy food is more likely to face an early delivery and a baby with low birth weight.
Children appear to be resilient, but systemic issues and practices can lead infants and toddlers to internalize negative beliefs about their racial or ethnic identities by the time they enter kindergarten. CLASP reports: “[R]acism doesn’t even have to be experienced directly for it to harm children’s development: evidence suggests that parents’ experiences of discrimination are associated with anxiety and depression in preschoolers and adolescents.”
The impact of COVID-19 comes on top of that pre-existing stress. Evidence is clear that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting communities of color through higher rates of infection and death, and health and economic impacts. Due to structural racism in our education and employment systems, Black and Latinx workers are overrepresented in low-wage service jobs that often do not provide health insurance – many of which are considered “essential” during the pandemic. Black, Latinx, and Native American families are more likely than white families to have a family member lose a job due to the pandemic, resulting in the inability to afford food, diapers, formula, clothing, and other basic essentials.
The report recommends immediate and tong-term policy action by federal and state policymakers to increase equity for infants, toddlers, and families of color that are struggling during the pandemic coupled with the effects of systemic racism. Many of the report’s recommendations align with the strategies for action in the Pathways Action Framework, which include:
- Access to health care. Address health disparities in the health care system by ensuring children and parents have access to comprehensive, affordable, and equitable health care.
- Paid family and medical leave. Low-wage employees are less likely to have access to both paid family leave and paid sick days. Some of the benefits for children if a national paid family and medical leave program were enacted for all workers include Increased birthweight, reduce infant mortality, and decrease in maternal depression and stress
- Support home visiting.
- Affordable high-quality early care and education. By expanding child care assistance to low- and middle-income families who work or go to school and prioritizing infants and toddlers in access and quality-improvement initiatives, this will ensure families will have access to affordable high-quality early care and education.
- Acknowledge that children’s and families’ needs are multifaceted and often cut across multiple policy and program areas.
The authors also share a few key things policymakers should consider as they determine what policies to put in place to support impacted children and their families, to ensure equitable outcomes:
- Examine how policy decision contribute to existing inequities on families and communities of color, immigrant families and communities.
- Work to ensure that additional resources and new or reformed policies address—rather than create or exacerbate—inequities.
- Consider how decisions in one area may have implications for families’ ability to use programs or services in another.