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Children's Mental Health: What President-Elect Biden Can Do

He can sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child soon after taking office.

President-Elect Biden of the United States just announced his COVID-19 task force, one composed of physicians, scientists, and public health experts; the United States recently surpassed 10 million cases, so reversing the pandemic is clearly a priority.

Thanos Pal/Unsplash
Reversing the pandemic's mental health consequences for children is a must.
Source: Thanos Pal/Unsplash

Reversing the pandemic’s mental health consequences, and providing access to mental health services to do so, is a must as well — especially for children, whose well-being has been declining along with that of their parents (Patrick, 2020).

What makes the COVID-19 quarantine particularly devastating for children is that they are being expected to suffer the consequences of the pandemic (such as physical isolation, adult mental health struggles, adult unemployment, and perhaps child maltreatment), often without their usual access to mental health services, that is, their schools. This is especially true for children from lower-income homes who don’t have private insurance and/or income to pay out-of-pocket for mental health services (Golberstein, Wen, & Miller, 2020).

Within the United States, COVID-19 has exacerbated inequalities and magnified our need for a true government safety net as adults in millions of families have been experiencing sudden unemployment (which, along with a lack of access to their children’s meals at school, can lead to food insecurity in the home) and the termination of their already limited safety net of non-universal, work-based health insurance (Ahmed, Ahmed, Pissarides, & Stiglitz, 2020; Coven & Gupta, 2020; van Dorn, Cooney, & Sabin, 2020).

Indeed, food insecurity in the U.S. during the time of COVID-19 has been soaring as well. In late April 2020, 35% of households with children under 18 years of age reported food insecurity, an alarming increase since the 14.7% in 2018, especially because insufficient nutrition in childhood and adolescence can lead to long-term developmental delays (Bauer, 2020). This shameful development could have been prevented with a better government safety net, such as one that provides a universal basic income to all and/or an allowance to families with children.

Members of low-income, Black, and/or Latinx families (who are already more likely to have chronic health conditions) are at even greater risk of mortality during the COVID-19 crisis, given these adults who are still employed are more likely to work in essential frontline occupations that tend to offer lower wages and require workers to physically interact with others, such as in public transit, healthcare, custodial services, and retail grocery—occupations which also tend to not provide workers with adequate health insurance, much less sufficient protective gear at work (Coven & Gupta, 2020; van Dorn, Cooney, & Sabin, 2020).

So in order to form a more perfect union to promote the general welfare and social justice of all its citizens, President-Elect Biden may want to consider signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) soon after taking office, particularly if the timeline for providing our citizens with a public option for health care would be protracted. What’s the CRC, you ask?

The CRC is an international document that specifies the rights of children, rights that include the right to non-discrimination, the right to have decisions made about them be based on their best interests, the right to high-quality healthcare, and the right to a high-quality education that develops their individual talents, abilities, and personality to the fullest (UNICEF, 2018).

Countries that sign the CRC agree to protect these rights and agree to do so by assessing their own educational systems, health systems, legal systems, and social services—as well as the funding of these services. All countries that are part of the United Nations have agreed to and ratified the CRC except one—that is, the United States.

By failing to sign the CRC, the United States government fails to ensure sufficient funding to protect children’s rights. And by failing to sign the CRC, the United States government also fails to ensure our children a high-quality education that develops each child’s talents, abilities, cognitive functioning, and emotional well-being to the fullest.

And yes, by failing to sign the CRC, the United States government fails to ensure children, teens, and their families the universal healthcare that many other countries provide, a vital right and one especially obvious during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

President-Elect Biden, please consider signing the CRC ASAP.

References

Ahmed, F., Ahmed, N., Pissarides, C. & Stiglitz, J. (2020). Why inequality could spread COVID-19. Lancet Public Health. https://doi.org/10.1016/ S2468-2667(20)30085-2

Anthis, K. (2021). Child and Adolescent Development: A Social Justice Approach. San Diego, CA: Cognella.

Coven, J. & Gupta, A. (2020). Disparities in mobility responses to COVID-19. NYU Stern School of Business. Retrieved from: https://arpitgupta.info/s/DemographicCovid.pdf

Golberstein, E., Wen, H., Miller, B. F. (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and mental health for children and adolescents. JAMA Pediatrics, 174(9):819-820. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.1456

Patrick et al. (2020). Well-being of parents and children during the COVID-19 pandemic: A national survey. Pediatrics, 146 (4) e2020016824; doi: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2020-016824

UNICEF. (2018). What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child? https://www.unicef.org/crc/index_30160.html

van Dorn, A., Cooney, R. E., & Sabin, M. L. (2020). COVID-19 exacerbating inequalities in the U.S. Lancet World Report,

395(10232), 1243–1244. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30893-X

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About the Author

Kristine Anthis, Ph.D., is the author of Child & Adolescent Development: A Social Justice Approach and Professor of Psychology at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, CT.