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CDC Researcher Susan Hillis on How People of Faith Can Support COVID Orphans

On the “prepare” side, we need to really rapidly collaborate between governments and faith networks, particularly, and other community networks to prepare and equip families to provide kinship care if, in fact, one of the parents dies and there’s a need for additional support inside the family. If there is not a kinship option available, either foster care or adoptive care is the next best option for children.

The reason we need to actively avoid orphanages and support family-based care instead is multiple studies — as many as 75 studies from 25 countries —demonstrate there are enduring negative developmental and cognitive effects on children who grow up in an orphanage or institution. In fact, for every one year in an institution, there’s a three-month delay in development. Additionally, there are limitations in the child’s ability to develop attachments and socioemotional skills. So for that reason, science would emphasize children need to live in safe and loving families.

What are some things people of faith can do to support these children and their families?

We talked about “prepare,” and we talked about “prevent,” but the third strategy we’re really emphasizing is “protect.” How can we protect those children who remain with maybe a single caregiver in their family from the increased risks of violence, abuse, neglect, exploitation and other aspects of social vulnerability, including economic limitations or poverty?

One of the main things the faith community has is access and trust. So just think: whenever a parent or caregiver dies, often there will be some type of memorial service. It would be natural for the faith leader to begin to identify: are there children in the home and do they need help? So, for the faith community themselves to collaborate with the child protection community in the particular area where the family who is in need lives and begin to reach out and try to visit and help serve in practical ways the family who is bereaved and recovering. Faith communities are really good at doing this, walking with people through adversity until they get out the other side.

Also, certainly, making sure children can stay in school. Sometimes children have fees or backpacks or notebooks they need — small contributions that strengthen a child’s ability to stay in school, small contributions that strengthen the ability of the parents in the home to actually continue doing the parenting needed and even small contributions that might help economically if suddenly the family finds themselves strapped because the main caregiver has died. Most every faith community I know has a benevolence fund across many different faith platforms, and they can also help ensure children have what they need to stay in school.

This article originally appeared here.

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Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.