Marian Wright EdelmanOp-EdOpinion

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Providing Help, Hope to Our Children in This Time of Crisis

As COVID-19 spreads across our nation, more communities and families need help and hope every day. Congress passed a $2 trillion relief package that was a critical step toward easing some the burdens of this crisis for millions of children and families.

It will provide low- and middle-income earners one-time cash payments of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child; more support for low-income renters, protections against foreclosures and evictions, grants for homelessness assistance, and temporary shelter and services for homeless youths; food assistance as more families qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); child care assistance for essential personnel responding to the outbreak and some help to other child care providers; support for local school systems and higher education institutions so they can continue to provide high-quality education; more services to prevent child maltreatment and help victims of family violence; and more unemployment insurance benefits.

But the bill still falls short of meeting the needs of all children and families, especially the most vulnerable, and making sure all families can access these supports regardless of immigration status. The Children’s Defense Fund® will keep fighting for the relief all American families deserve and all of us must pitch in.

Beyond financial relief, children also will continue to need love, support, and clear, age-appropriate reassurances about what is happening and how all of the changes to daily life are designed to help keep as many people as possible safe. Some leaders have begun holding special press conferences just for children. On March 16, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg led the way in her country, answering questions like, “Can I visit my grandparents?” “Can I have a birthday party?” “How long does it take to make a vaccine?” and “What can I do to help?” and reassuring them that all of their feelings are valid: “I know that for many children this is scary. It is OK to be scared when so many things happen at the same time.”

Two days later, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern held an event for children covering topics like how the virus is spread and how soap works. On March 17 Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear started his daily briefing with a special video for children explaining ideas like social distancing, how children can stay close to friends and family without visiting them in person, how they can make sure they’re getting facts from trusted sources, and what they can do when they feel stressed, followed up this week by another video just for preschool children. He also had advice for parents: “As long as you are well, hug your children. Hug them often. It’s going to help you as much as it helps them.”

Public officials everywhere should be holding these kinds of press conferences for children right now to give them the reassurance and sense of security they so desperately need in these frightening times. And parents, grandparents, and other adults must continue to do all we can to be the anchors our children need in these perilous times.

I end with a prayer:

O God, Thou knowest that we cannot read, understand, or retain all we think we need to know right now.
Remember for us and understand for us what we do need to know.

O God, Thou knowest we are bone weary and worn down by the news of the day.
Be Thou our strength, energy, and perseverance.

O God, Thou knowest that our internal nerve and voice quaver unconfidently amidst all those who speak with certainty.
Be Thou our confidence and clarity and anchor.

O God, Thou knowest how scattered are our thoughts and activities that tire us out and drain our energy.
Be Thou our focus and order our words and steps to meet our children’s needs.

O God, Thou knowest our dreams and hopes for the children of America and of the world and the many child dreams and hopes at risk right now.
Be Thou our and their dreamkeeper and grant them hope and help in our times.

Thank you, God, for hearing our cries as You heard Hagar’s long ago.

Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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