Ralph Smith: One Thing We Must Do Now
April 7, 2020
What is one thing you believe must be done now to improve how children and families are faring during the current crisis, specifically as it relates to the media and technology in their lives?
Join forces with public health to demand investment in family supports.
Ralph Smith is Managing Director of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, an initiative that seeks to disrupt generational poverty by focusing on ensuring early school success for children from low-income families.
Healthcare professionals, while heroically battling COVID-19, remind us constantly that the already tragic consequences of the virus have been magnified by decades of disinvestment in our nation’s public health system. As a result, they are fighting a “war” without the weapons and protections they desperately need. Assuming the “war” metaphor is as appropriate as it is now widespread, when it comes to public health, our nation has pursued unilateral disarmament even though surrender is not an option.
Those of us committed to ensuring brighter futures for economically disadvantaged children must applaud the courage and follow the lead of healthcare professionals. The response to COVID-19 has placed parents and families in a similar situation. Colleges and universities have summarily evicted students from their campuses and dorms. Schools and childcare centers have been mandated to close. Children of all ages are in reverse exodus back to their homes, families, and parents, where they are required to “shelter in place.” And given chronically under-resourced family support systems, many families (especially but not solely low-income families) are unprepared, ill-equipped, and inadequately supported to succeed with the additional tasks for which they have been conscripted.
Stories abound about how families are rising to the occasion, improvising and innovating with help from teachers and other frontline practitioners. The applause, however well-deserved, is no substitute for mobilizing demand for investing in systems of supports for families.
The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the reality that parents are more than the proverbial “first teacher,” brain builder, coach, and advocate. They are the launchpad, the backbone and the backstop of last resort. And, as with public health, family support systems need deep and sustained investment if we expect them to be ready when we need them most.
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