While the youngest Washingtonians have so far been largely spared from some of the worst health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, the toll of the pandemic on the well-being of children and their families should not be underestimated. Prolonged school and child care closures, lost jobs and incomes, and the added stress of balancing work, family, and the uncertainty of the virus are harming kids and parents alike. And while some of these disruptions may seem short-term, they have the potential to affect the well-being of kids for years to come.
Our new KIDS COUNT brief, “What Washington’s kids need to weather the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,” highlights five pressing challenges facing Washington’s kids and their families in the midst of COVID-19. Families are facing the mounting strain of job and income loss, a looming eviction crisis, and rising food insecurity; the state’s already stressed child care infrastructure is at risk of collapse; and the digital divide and other barriers to distance learning are impeding kids’ educational progress.
Our new KIDS COUNT in Washington brief, “What Washington’s kids need to weather the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,” highlights the pandemic’s impact on children and families and outlines state policy recommendations to safeguard child well-being now and in the future.
While these challenges are being felt widely by kids and families across Washington state, Black, Indigenous, and other families of color have shouldered a disproportionate burden. Past and present policy decisions that uphold institutional racism have made BIPOC children and families vulnerable to the most severe health impacts of COVID-19 and also positioned them to suffer the greatest economic losses. Structural barriers that pre-date the pandemic are undermining BIPOC child and family well-being, from occupational segregation and employment discrimination that have set Black, Latinx, and other households of color up to disproportionately lose jobs and income amid COVID-191,2 to underinvestment in majority Black and brown schools that has put laptops and other technology needed for remote learning out of reach for students. These conditions contribute to acute stress for children and families, and have the potential to harm kids’ health, educational, and economic outcomes into the future.
State and federal lawmakers must act with urgency to support families to weather these challenges and ensure kids’ long-term well-being. Washington state leaders cannot meet this moment with short-sighted cuts as they did during the Great Recession, when policymakers slashed support for kids and families rather than raise progressive revenue for vital community investments. Austerity-based budget decisions during that period cut cash and food assistance for people struggling to make ends meet, took child care support away from thousands of families, and undermined Washington state’s K-12 and higher education systems. Repeating this approach would deepen harm to the children and families who are already bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s impact and slow recovery for Washington state overall.
Instead, state and federal lawmakers must support families to meet their basic needs by supplying vital income, health, housing and food assistance; ensure that child care providers can reopen safely and afford to serve kids with low family incomes; and expand access to the technology and other supports kids need to learn and grow during the pandemic and beyond. These efforts will require additional federal aid to state, local, and tribal governments as well as bold action to raise progressive revenue at the state level, so that lawmakers have the resources needed to equitably invest in families and communities across Washington state.
About KIDS COUNT in Washington
KIDS COUNT in Washington is a partnership of the Children’s Alliance and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, made possible by support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It pursues measurable improvements in child outcomes through equitable public policy measures. For more information, visit www.kidscountwa.org.