Reporting and Covid-19: Tips for Journalists

The Serious Risks Posed to Young Children by Pandemic Isolation

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Guest: Cecilia Vaca Jones, Executive Director, The Bernard van Leer Foundation and former Minister of Social Development, Ecuador

News coverage about very young children, some of the world’s most vulnerable people, is scarce. Yet scientific and medical science has long held that a prerequisite for healthy adulthood is the care people receive as babies and toddlers; robust brain development during the first two years of a person's life is crucial for neurological well-being.

Where should reporters look to find stories on this subject in the short term?

Stresses to healthcare systems in countries trying to stave off the Covid-19 pandemic may quickly leave vulnerable people lacking essential nutrition, and missing routine vaccinations. For very young children, the negative consequences of missing critical milestones could last a lifetime.  

So, find the gaps in care, and report on them:

  • Are pregnant people receiving adequate maternity care? Are families with infants getting access to proper healthcare?
  • Are governments prioritizing healthcare and nutritional services for pre-natal and newborn babies, parents, and families? Are young children receiving milestone vaccinations?
  • During the first six months of a baby’s life, a breastfeeding parent needs ample nutrition. And after six months, babies need supplemental food. Are governments providing financial support to families? Are they using cash transfers? If so, reporters can follow up to see who is actually getting the funds, and to find out if the system has flaws.
  • How are governments and NGOs addressing the immediate needs of immigrants and refugees? There may not be lot of reporting about what is happening in refugee camps because these especially are difficult stories to cover given health concerns.
  • How can we evaluate early childhood programs? Preschools and daycare centers for the very young often exist in a network of small facilities and programs. To assess the efficacy of the overall system, evaluate whether families have access to additional employment, mental health care, and nutritional services.
  • What’s working in other places?
    • In Bangladesh, the government opened additional clinics for pregnant people at the onset of Covid-19, to confront the threat of increasing infant mortality from the virus.
    • In the Netherlands, the government is assuring that midwives can work, including by providing pre-natal care remotely. In
    • Colombia and Argentina, instead of closing judicial avenues for victims and survivors of domestic violence amidst government shutdowns, the courts opened additional justice services and programs. In many places, parent coaching programs have been effective in supporting families and providing an antidote to isolation, while homemade toys and other supplies have helped families in refugee camps and other high-risk communities.

Where should reporters look to find stories in the long term?

  • What is the future of childcare? As schools and daycares shutter, the pandemic is highlighting the overwhelming need for quality childcare. Though this long-advocated for need finally seems to have been established, there is a real risk of losing that care during and after the pandemic.
  • Will lessons be squandered? Will current advocacy be ineffective? In countries like the Netherlands, advocates for universal childcare must compete with pressing pandemic-related economic needs. If the pandemic results in regressive policies, vulnerable people could be worse off than before.
  • What are the pandemic’s potential long-term effects on children? From an epidemiological point of view, recent positive trends in maternal and infant mortality, and the general well-being of families, may regress. Vaca Jones recommends reporters pay attention to these trends over time.
  • How will governments treat immigrants and refugees in the longer term? There’s also a risk that some governments may take advantage of vulnerable migrants during the pandemic to promote nationalist political agendas about closing borders.
  • How are cities rethinking infrastructure, and what pandemic-inspired changes might remain? Streets represent the most extensive public space within cities. Some urban areas have opened up roadways and banned cars on certain streets to allow for greater pedestrian access.