NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Child Wellbeing Task Force released its initial report about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and families Thursday.
In the report, the group said that economic, physical and mental health are interconnected during times of crisis. Any issues with one can contribute to overall childhood adversity, which can lead to long-term physical and mental health impacts including depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse and lung disease.
Data from 2017 estimated that there are around 152,000 children with severe emotional disturbances in Tennessee. Around 45,000 children were treated in 2019 through community-based systems, either in school or outside of it.
Family stress like unemployment can also contribute to increased rates of domestic violence, substance abuse and child abuse. The group said the connection was evident during previous national disasters, too.
Officials said that reports of suspected child abuse dropped by 27 percent during peak stay-at-home orders, mostly because mandatory reporters such as teachers and pediatricians were disconnected from children and families.
They also said that the pandemic has affected different populations disproportionately. They said the trend raises concerns about a widening equity gap in Tennessee.
They also found that 76 percent of district leaders in Tennessee and 55 percent of public responders said technology access was a top COVID-19 related need.
The task force was created to ensure that the needs of Tennessee children were met while they were away from school, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 38-member group was also tasked with helping empower communities to support child wellbeing.
"Schools play a critical role in supporting students’ physical and mental health, and we have seen more students have gone hungry, suicide rates have increased, abuse cases have gone unreported, and critical health and counseling services have halted due to the global pandemic,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn in a press release.
The task force will meet monthly, between August and December, to help communities support families, to help communities support students during the back-to-school season and throughout the 2020-2021 school year.