The Kids Still Aren’t Alright: Putting the Health, Education, and Safety of Kids First

Bruce Lesley
Published in
9 min readJan 11, 2022


The kids still aren’t alright.

Despite the initial disregard for how COVID-19 was impacting children, a majority of people began to recognize that the global pandemic, which has been the biggest public health crisis we have seen in a century, and the resulting economic recession have impacted each and every aspect of the lives of children in a profound way.

This global pandemic has required the world to learn about the evolving science of the COVID virus and its impact on people. The medical community and scientists are still learning about the implications of COVID and are repeatedly faced with new variants and changes they are causing with respect to severity and spread of the virus. Medicine and public policy have needed (but have not always succeeded) to adjust in real time.

Many of us are experiencing COVID fatigue, but the absence of a policy or a plan to address the health, education, and safety of children is failing them.

For children, who are often treated as an afterthought in public policy, they have struggled to deal with:

1) Budget Cuts: Federal, state, and local budget cuts to children’s programs over the prior decade that had negatively impacted their well-being even prior to the COVID pandemic and economic recession;

2) School Closures: School closures and threats to their education that included the inability for many families to access education offered online;

3) COVID Infections and Deaths: Illness and threats to their family members (an estimated 175,000 children have lost a parent or grandparent caregiver through this epidemic);

4) Last to be Vaccinated: The inability for children to be eligible for vaccinations (vaccines for 5–11 year-olds were only recently approved and vaccines are still unavailable to children under age 5);

5) Rising Uninsured Rates: Rising uninsurance rates and threats to other aspects of the health of children, including a drop in routine vaccinations, well-child visits, health care screenings, mental and dental health care services, etc.;

6) Threats to Children’s Mental Health: Threats to the mental health of children during lockdowns and school closures and overuse of social media;

7) Declining Indicators of Child Well-Being: Poor performance by the U.S. on indicators of children well-being, including child poverty, child hunger, child homelessness, and child abuse due to the economic recession and pandemic;

8) Misinformation Campaigns: Misinformation campaigns and a toxic social media culture that have made a large number of parents leery of trusting guidance from medical and health professionals for vaccines, including COVID but including vaccines against measles, polio, rubella, tetanus, etc.;

9) Children’s Needs Treated as an Afterthought: The sidelining of children and their needs, concerns, and best interests with respect to policies that impact their lives (think about all you have seen or read about schools, masking, vaccines, child care, the Child Tax Credit, child hunger, child abuse, homelessness, child suicides, etc. and the rage that adults have exhibited on all sides with little or no thought about asking the kids, who actually have thoughts about what they want or need); and,

10) Toxic Political Culture: A toxic political culture where some politicians and astroturf political organizations, have tried to use the crisis for political purposes and gain rather than advancing a national bipartisan plan to combat the twin threats of the pandemic and economic crises.

None of this has been good for children. The result is that kids, who were not alright before the pandemic and recession, are doing even worse today.

Mistakes were undoubtedly made. We were probably too quick to support school closures to protect the health and well-being of children and too slow to reopen schools. However, we collectively learned about the negative consequences this was having on the education, mental health, safety (potential rising child abuse rates and increasing online threats), and social development of children. All aspects of the lives of children have to be considered, including both the pros and unintended consequences of policy choices. Consequently, doing everything possible to keep schools open should be a priority.

However, with respect to that priority, it is disturbing that people are attacking doctors, public health experts, school boards, other policymakers, and even students themselves for doing all they can to keep schools open, including facilitating student and school employee vaccinations and promoting masking, testing, contact tracing, air purification, and testing to keep children and educators healthy and safe.

If you truly want kids to be in school, then it is incumbent on schools to mitigate the spread of COVID. The virus causes children to be home sick or quarantined and away from school. In some cases, the virus spread among students and teachers is extreme enough to cause school closures. Schools are scrambling to find substitute teachers to replace teachers, who are leaving the profession due to stress, lack of support, or illness.

Unfortunately, in the states of Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, and a few other states and at the local level, there are governors or local lawmakers that are actively blocking public health officials and school districts from attempting to protect the health and safety of their students and teachers. In effect, their policy is one of doing nothing, or even worse, actively preventing the protection of children and educators from harm.

In the midst of all of this, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is promoting legislation that would promote lawsuits against teachers who “smuggle in” what he deems to be “inappropriate content,” Texas Rep. Matt Krause has created a list of 850 books to be possibly banned from libraries and classrooms, the Iowa Senate President Jack Chapman has threatened to jail teachers because they have a “sinister agenda,” and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey simply proposes nothing for education but potshots.

Doing nothing or promoting harm under the auspices of “parental rights” does not result in a coherent plan or mitigation strategy to protect the health, education, and safety of children. In fact, it can be quite detrimental.

Shockingly, in defense of doing nothing, some have argued that “only a small percentage of children are dying.”

Under no circumstances is that an acceptable rationale for any policy related to children, particularly since deaths and severe illnesses can be mitigated or prevented with vaccines, use of masks, and other public health measures. For example, the number of cases and hospitalizations for children are rising and now at all-time highs.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association

Children are also experiencing long-term complications from COVID, but the extent of such problems remain unknown. What we do know if that getting vaccinated significantly reduces long-haul COVID problems.

The failure to protect the health and safety of children is simply immoral.

Even if individual parents think their child or children might not die, become hospitalized, or contract long-term complications such as neurological impairments, organ inflammation, heart, diabetes, or lung problems, or diabetes from COVID, it is unconscionable to disregard the much greater threat that COVID poses to the lives of children with disabilities or that have compromised immune systems or their teachers.

In addition, when teachers, bus drivers, school nurses, and counselors become ill, schools are unable to educate children. And, as noted above, if COVID infections rise to certain levels, it forces school closures. Therefore, if you really care about keeping schools open, then taking public health measures intended to protect the health and safety of children and educators is a no-brainer.

Nobody should need to be reminded that COVID has killed over 800,000 people in this country. The lead author of a study published in Pediatrics estimates this includes 175,000 caregivers of children. Susan Hillis, epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explained:

This means that for every four COVID-19 deaths, one child was left behind without a mother, father and/or a grandparent who provided for that child’s home needs and nurture — needs such as love, security and daily care.

The impact is life-long. As the study’s authors write:

. . .the lives of these children are permanently changed by the deaths of their mothers, fathers, or grandparents who provided their homes, needs, and care.

Our nation’s children are neither fine or “immune” from this pandemic.

Our family loved our children’s pediatricians because they have an extremely caring and supportive practice that puts the health and well-being of children first, makes decisions in partnership with parents, but ensures that science and medicine are the key factors in making decisions about the care and treatment of children. As they explain in their mission statement:

Our goal is not only to keep your children healthy, but also to nurture your family and provide guidance to you as parents so that your children grow into secure, happy and successful adults.

We should all strive toward that goal.

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Was Pro-Child and Significantly Cut Children Poverty but Key Provisions Have Expired

Fortunately, in early 2021, President Biden and Congress recognized the incredible harm that children were experiencing from the twin threats of the pandemic and recession and enacted the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. ARP included provisions to improve major flaws in the Child Tax Credit (CTC) that prevented 26 million low-income children from receiving the full credit because their parents made “too little” money. Fixing this flaw and expanding the CTC from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child under age 18 and $3,600 per child under age 6 is estimated to cut child poverty by more than 40%.

Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, “Tax Credits in Build Back Better Support Millions of Families

There were other important provision in that bill for kids, but they too are expiring.

As the leading example, the CTC improvements expired on New Year’s Day of this year due to the opposition or inaction of all 50 Republican senators and Democrat Joe Manchin.

Gridlock and inaction are a threat to children and often worse than nothing. In this case, during an ongoing global pandemic in which children continue to face all sorts of threats to their health, education, and safety, the families of 65 million children will experience a significant tax increase (between $1,000 and $3,600 per child) in 2022 and child poverty will nearly double.

Child poverty costs our society an estimated $800 billion to $1.1 trillion annually in terms of declining outcomes for children with respect to education and health care and rising incidents of child hunger, homelessness, child abuse, and juvenile justice that fail to ensure that children “grow into secure, happy and successful adults.”

The Build Back Better Act, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 220–213 in November, has failed to move forward in the U.S. Senate due to opposition to the bill by a number of special interests, including those seeking to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest in our society. Billionaire Elon Musk, who once wrongly declared children were “largely immune” from COVID may be happy that the U.S. Senate is failing to act, but our nation’s 74 million children and their families deserve so much better.

While there are some fringe groups like Moms for Liberty that are pushing to block COVID health and safety measures, privatize and undermine our nation’s public schools, ban books by award-winning authors like Toni Morrison, Ruby Bridges, and Jerry Craft, whitewash history, and impose barriers for students to access mental health counseling and services, this is not an agenda that most parents and children support.

In a November 2021 poll by the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler, Texas voters supported permitting teachers “to discuss how historical examples of discrimination in our laws apply to inequalities today” by a 59–24% margin. Furthermore, by a 66–28% margin, those surveyed had little to no confidence in the “judgement of elected state leaders in reviewing what books are controversial and should be removed from K-12 schools.”

Instead, a real Children’s Agenda is one that truly promotes the health, education, and safety of children.

This includes passage of the Build Back Better Act, which extends the Child Tax Credit (which hundreds of national, state, and local organizations and over 400 of our nation’s leading economists support), provides funding to support child care, pre-K, and child health, and helps reduce child abuse, child hunger, homelessness, and climate change. This is an agenda that the American people, including parents and children, strongly support (by a 61–32% margin in this Data for Progress/Invest in America poll).

The Senate should consider renaming Build Back Better as the Children and Families Act and get it passed. We should do our best to make the kids alright, but at the very least, don’t leave millions of children worse off in 2022.



Bruce Lesley

@BruceLesley — President of @First_Focus & @Campaign4Kids. Child advocate, husband & father of 4. Basketball fanatic. Follow on Twitter: @BruceLesley.