Mary Marx: Staying connected is critical for vulnerable children

pace center for girls
A return to normal will be a heavy lift for many children and families.

The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and the accompanying global response to the current crisis, has affected all aspects of our lives. While we anxiously await the end of the pandemic, its impact will likely be felt for years to come.

Schools across the nation are closed and are unlikely to reopen this school year, interrupting the growth and learning of more than 73 million children nationally. This kind of disruption can have short-term consequences for emotional and physical health and long-term consequences for overall well-being.

This impact is intensified for children that, before the pandemic, were already vulnerable as a result of racial and economic disparities. Many of these vulnerable children rely on school not only for learning, but also to support their mental, emotional, social and physical well-being.

As families isolate to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many women and girls are experiencing their largest threat where they should feel the safest — in their own homes. Domestic violence hotlines across Florida have seen a significant increase in calls.

At the same time, Florida’s Department of Children and Families shares that child abuse hotline reports in March decreased when compared to last year. Nationally, school personnel make up approximately 20% of child abuse reports. The longer vulnerable children remain out of school, the greater the likelihood of violence, abuse, and neglect in the home that goes unreported.

Efforts that keep teachers and social workers in touch with young people can help reduce these effects. A current example is Pace Center for Girls, a statewide prevention and early intervention model working with more than 3,000 vulnerable girls and young women across Florida, combines counseling and case management with the full academic school day.

Adapting to the new and unique circumstances of COVID-19 and social distancing, Pace has deployed virtual case management, counseling and therapy and continues to provide students with a full academic school day.

This is done using distance learning platforms to ensure all of the girls continue to receive the social, emotional and educational services they need to be physically and emotionally safe and academically successful during this challenging time.

Pace staff remain engaged, ensuring girls and families have access to critical food, hygiene products, medical resources, and emergency services in their communities.

By remaining mission-driven and continuing to provide girls and young women the opportunity to create a better future, Pace is mitigating the very real short- and long-term consequences of isolation and vulnerability that many young people may experience during this time.

A return to normal will be a heavy lift for many children and families.

Readjusting as we emerge from this pandemic will likely be a bumpy road, but supporting those most vulnerable in our communities through this crisis will ensure they will not be left behind.


Mary Marx is CEO of the Pace Center for Girls.

Guest Author


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