– April 14 2020
Responding to COVID-19: Protection, Education and Family Support
SOS Children’s Villages has kept children safe, cared for and educated for almost 70 years. While COVID-19 may slow our work for vulnerable children and youth, it will not stop it. SOS USA's CEO, Neil Ghosh, shares his insights.
COVID-19 is highlighting the profound inequality that exists in our global society. SOS USA’s CEO, Neil Ghosh, felt it was necessary to hear first-hand the impact that these disparities have on the vulnerable populations we work to protect. Over the past week, he has spoken with children, youth, service providers and SOS colleagues around the world and identified some of the immediate challenges and solutions that SOS is engaged in every day:
Before coronavirus shut her school’s doors, Lesley was thriving academically and busy with extracurricular activities. Now, staying at home with her SOS family in Florida
, the 14-year-old is worried about the state’s rising number of COVID-19 cases and is struggling to engage with the assignments her teachers are posting online. Lesley feels safe and protected at SOS, but she misses her classmates, and her motivation for learning is waning. After all she has achieved since arriving at SOS, she suddenly feels uncertain about her path forward.
, schools closed on March 16 to slow the spread of the coronavirus. That has been particularly hard for 16-year-old Abeba, who feels safe and happy there. To make matters worse, her mother’s restaurant – started with help from an SOS family strengthening program
– has also been forced to close, leaving the family without an income. While Abeba enjoys the extra time with her siblings and mother, she worries about what the future will hold – and she sees her dream of becoming a doctor slipping away.
According to UNESCO, 9 out of 10 enrolled children are out of school right now due to COVID-19. Without school, children miss out on the opportunities that education affords, namely a path out of poverty, a chance at a brighter future and the skills to realize their full potential.
No one has seen a shutdown of this scale and magnitude. From SOS programs in Illinois and Florida
to those in Ethiopia
, it will likely take years for students to catch up on the learning they miss while schools are closed. One study found that it took two entire years for New Orleans students affected by Hurricane Katrina to fully recover their lost learning.
And learning is not the only casualty of school closures – for many children, school is a refuge, a place of stability and safety. Out-of-school children are more vulnerable to malnutrition, child labor, violence and abuse – and girls are also at greater risk of early marriage and pregnancy. When schools were closed in Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic, teen pregnancy rates skyrocketed, increasing by as much as 65%.
While the pandemic is placing strains on families across the globe, its broad impacts will fall most heavily on those who were already struggling. Millions of families have lost their means of income and have nothing to fall back on. As parents worry about the basic necessities of life – food, water, shelter – the crushing pressure puts families at increased risk of falling apart. With many localities under stay-at-home orders, children facing violence at home have nowhere to escape to and no one to help them. And young people without families who are about to enter adulthood will find it difficult to survive, let alone become self-sufficient.
The widespread disruption caused by COVID-19 – schools closed, rising unemployment, sickness, physical isolation and the loss of community support structures – will have long-term effects on children and youth around the world, impacting their educational achievement, economic prospects and emotional well-being for years to come. The children served by SOS, many of whom have made giant strides to overcome past trauma and hardship
– will be disproportionately affected.
Despite these challenges, there is hope.
There are proven steps we can take to limit the crisis’s long-term effects on children and youth. In fact, with established operations and strong community ties in 136 countries
, including the United States, SOS Children’s Villages has the unique ability – and the responsibility – to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.
The actions we take today will help in the midst of this crisis and will position children, youth and their families to get back on track after the pandemic fades.
Our holistic approach and range of programs enable us to tackle this challenge on many fronts. At our villages
around the world, we are working hard to provide continuity, emotional support and education to the children in our care, while making the necessary adjustments to prevent coronavirus infection. Our youth programs
are helping youth to navigate, as best they can, this uncertain environment, and to lay the groundwork for future success when the economy improves. Our family strengthening programs
are utilizing technology and safe distancing as they help families stay afloat during this crisis, keep their children safe from abuse and emotional harm, and enable their children to continue their education at home.
To respond to the COVID-19 crisis, we are building on our established programs to support vulnerable children, their families and their communities, focusing on the following four areas:
Coronavirus preparedness and prevention
• Taking recommended precautions to ensure the health and safety of children, youth and their caregivers, in our villages and beyond.
• Raising public awareness on the importance of handwashing and other hygiene measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 and for general health and well-being.
• Contributing to health care delivery by temporarily scaling up existing SOS medical services and facilities in select countries, and by allowing governments and health care groups to use non-operational SOS schools and medical centers to provide care.
Child protection, mental health and psychosocial support for children and families
• Reducing stress and trauma
, particularly for children who have lost their parents or other family members, through focused mental health and therapeutic activities.
• Educating and empowering children and young people to request support and report abuse through helplines and other mechanisms.
• Enabling parents and other caregivers (including foster families) to receive support, advice and coaching through virtual counseling and mentoring.
Education and youth employment
• Creating community-based child-friendly spaces for daycare and education to serve children whose parents need to continue going to work.
• Supporting the continued learning of children in SOS villages through offline and online educational resources, including providing students with study materials, technology (mobile phones/tablets/computers) and Wi-Fi connectivity.
• Adapting and extending support for young people who have left alternative care, including offering mentoring and skills development through the YouthLinks digital platform.
Strengthening struggling families
• Providing cash or material support, including food and non-food items, to vulnerable families.
• Supporting alternative care arrangements with extended family members or family friends when parents are unable to care for their children due to health issues.
The coronavirus has shut schools, upended the world economy, and placed immense stress on families and communities, but we cannot let it stop our important work. As the need increases by the day, we are on the ground, doing whatever we can to ensure the well-being of children and families caught up in this crisis.
SOS Children’s Villages International has launched a humanitarian appeal for $100 million to support SOS programs in 136 countries in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. At SOS USA, we are working hand in hand with our colleagues around the world to address this crisis, and we are committed to supporting this global campaign.
We need your support.
Our collective response provides vital resources for children and families today, and allows us to lay the foundation for a brighter tomorrow. We are stronger together.
From the desk of Neil Ghosh, CEO of SOS USA
If you want to continue this conversation with Neil to hear more of his insight, or to share what your organization is experiencing at this uncertain time, please reach out to him at email@example.com