The Big Picture
Over the past year, COVID-19 has ravaged the world and has no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Every family, organization, and individual is feeling the ever-growing burden of this life altering pandemic. To try to lessen the spread of the virus, many governing bodies and nations alike have asked citizens to stay at home. These widespread shutdowns, though crucial for the flattening of the curve, have other unintended effects that are beginning to manifest in society. Lockdown measures have taken a toll on global mental health. This issue is especially paramount in the explanation for a rise in endangered runaway cases in the United States.
A Hidden Crisis
The United States efforts to combat this pandemic is inadvertently exposing the nation’s children to increased risk of violence – including maltreatment, exploitation, and sexual violence. Roughly half of all elementary and high schools in the US are studying virtually this school year. Simultaneously, parents are forced to work at home away from the office this year. This has proven to be a melting pot for negative outcomes for mental health and families alike. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the movement restrictions, loss of income, isolation, overcrowding, and high levels of stress and anxiety are causing children to experience and observe increased physical, psychological, and sexual abuse at home. These increases are especially true for those children already living in hostile and abusive households. While many students have found success in the online learning format, this has also exposed the American youth to more instances of cyberbullying, online abuse, and sexual exploitation.
Over the past year, this mix of anxiety and maltreatment at home has led to a spike in endangered runaway cases throughout the United States. Many at risk teens and children find that running away from home is the only option for them to escape their torment. In a normal year an estimated 4.2 million youth and young adults experience homelessness, where 700,000 are unaccompanied minors. On any given night, approximately 41,000 youth ages 13-25 experience homelessness. The numbers this year are already at record highs and show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
We need to act now. These unforeseen side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are not a short-term issue, rather, these effects will leave a lifelong scar if not treated properly or promptly. F3MCIA is here to protect, educate, and bring home endangered youth, especially in this time of great national unrest.
What to do?
Below is a list compiled by the WHO listing the need for a collective response in the following ways:
- Maintaining essential health and social welfare services, including mental health and psychosocial support
- Providing child protection case management and emergency alternative care arrangements
- Ensuring social protection for the most vulnerable children and households
- Continuing care and protection for children in institutions
- Communicating with and engaging parents, caregivers and children themselves with evidence-based information and advice.
- National helplines, school counsellors and other child-friendly reporting mechanisms