Three-year-old Akeri lives in the Delta region of Mississippi, where poverty is widespread and communities have few resources to support families hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

Three-year-old Akeri lives in the Delta region of Mississippi, where poverty is widespread and communities have few resources to support families hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. Photo credit: Susan Warner / Save the Children

Underlying Disparities Mean Mississippi’s Kids Are Hit Hard by COVID-19

Childhood should be a time when our nation’s youngest citizens develop into the adults who will care for and lead our country, our world, and our shared future. Every child deserves love, care and protection so they can develop to their full potential. Yet for millions of children in the United Sates – and hundreds of millions more children around the world – childhood is ending too soon.

In its 2020 U.S. Complement to the Global Childhood Report, Save the Children takes a closer look at the major reasons why childhoods are ending too soon as measured by five factors. The End of Childhood State Ranking shows which states are succeeding, and which ones are failing, to provide conditions that nurture and protect children, including 5-year-old Khloe’s home state of Mississippi.

Sadly, Mississippi is the second-worst state for children in the nation. The state has the nation’s highest rate of children dying before their first birthday: 8.5 deaths per 1,000 live births– well above the national average of 5.6.

The coronavirus pandemic has made these inequalities all the more stark.

For the millions of families like Khloe’s, the effects of this pandemic on their ability to access food, healthcare, and basic services can be crippling and even deadly. Khloe’s grandmother, Sharon, says it’s been hard to keep the Kindergartener motivated to do her school assignments.

“Why did this happen? When is COVID going to leave,” she asks her grandmother.

Lack of food has also been a problem for families where Khloe and her grandmother live in Bolivar County, especially those who relied on school lunches. In fact, 30 million children in the U.S. depend on school for one or more of their meals each week. 

At the beginning of the stay-at-home order, Khloe’s school district gave out “grab-and-go” lunches, but later they stopped the service out of concern for staff safety.

In nearby Coahoma and Quitman counties, parents and grandparents who have lost jobs and child care services said they felt “stressed,” “overwhelmed” and “anxious.” They described their children as “confused,” “lonely” and “depressed.”

“It’s hard to keep food in the home because of unemployment,” said Kimberly, a mother of two teenagers who lost her job when the nearby casino was closed.

Denzel, 21, and his daughter 20-month-old Akeri participate in Save the Children’s early childhood development program in Mississippi’s Delta region.

Denzel, 21, and his daughter, 20-month-old Akeri, participate in Save the Children’s early childhood development program in Mississippi’s Delta region.

These Mississippi Delta counties are among the poorest and lowest ranked places for children in this report. They are also among the least able to prevent human suffering and financial loss resulting from the pandemic, according to the CDC.

“Some areas have more resources than others,” said Yolanda Minor, deputy director for Save the Children programs in Mississippi. “The majority African-American communities, especially, have fewer things like food pantries.”

As the pandemic forces new problems on struggling families, it has put children’s futures at even higher risk

“Many families here don’t have computers or access to the Internet,” said Shenika King, a Save the Children early childhood specialist based in Bolivar County. “The kids can’t keep up with school.”

Families are also having trouble with child care. “Schools were their only source of child care,” said King. “They don’t have anyone to tend to their babies now. Some are relying on friends. Some can’t go to work because they have to stay home with their kids.”

King worries about children’s emotional health during this crisis. “The students are missing social interactions with their peers and teachers,” she said. “School is so vital. The teachers give some of the only encouraging words some of these kids ever hear.”

Save the Children is responding to the crisis by having its coordinators regularly check in on families, coaching parents on how to help kids with lessons, providing learning materials, assisting with food distributions and supplying other essentials such as diapers, wipes and hand sanitizer.

Save the Children is committed to ensuring every last child reaches his or her fullest potential. In the United States, that means both serving and advocating for children, especially those who are overlooked and underserved. To learn more, download the full 2020 U.S. Complement to the Global Childhood Report. Plus, for the first time ever, you can use our interactive map to see where your county ranks.

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