A father carefully helps his young daughter down the steps of their trailer home in the Mississippi Delta.

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

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

“Why did this happen? When is COVID going to leave?” These are some of the questions 5-year-old Khloe asked her grandmother as she tried to keep up with schoolwork at home in Bolivar County, Mississippi. Her grandmother, Sharon, said it’s been hard to keep Khloe motivated to do her school assignments.

Starting in March, the coronavirus pandemic quickly caused schools across America to close due to health concerns. As school systems across the nation grappled with how to continue critical instruction in light of closures, parents and caretakers like Sharon grappled with a number of challenges as well.

Across the nation, 30 million children rely on free or reduced priced meals served at school. At the beginning of the stay-at-home order, the school district in Bolivar County 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.

These Mississippi Delta counties are among the poorest and lowest ranked places for children based on analysis in Save the Children’s 2020 U.S. Complement to the Global Childhood Report. They are also among the least able to prevent human suffering and financial loss resulting from the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“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.

Learn more and support Save the Children’s work in the United States and around the world by visiting savethechildren.org/coronavius. Together, we can ensure children and families affected by coronavirus, especially those most vulnerable, receive the support they need to keep healthy, continue learning and stay safe.

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