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Column: What can and should be done to support families now?
Shannon Casas
Shannon Casas

The parents are not OK. 

Certainly, I don’t need to tell you that 2020 has been a year of uncertainty. For many local parents of school-age children, there is still the certainty of buying an 8.5-inch-by-5-inch pencil case, five two-pocket folders with prongs a three-pack of Pink Pearl erasers and a host of other items. But just how long they’ll be carrying all that back and forth to school in their bookbag is anyone’s guess. 

Many schools across the state have already opened and some have since been forced to close for quarantine due to COVID-19 cases. It’s likely not a question of if but when this will happen locally.  

When will I be sitting at home trying to ensure my child is completing all the steps of his assignment while also trying to have a video meeting to ensure reporters are answering all the big questions on the latest news story for publication on gainesvilletimes.com?  

Gainesville parents are already trying to balance the demands of their bosses and their kids’ Zoom meeting schedules.  

And this just touches on the experience of parents who have the flexibility to work from home while their kid sits a few feet away peppering them with questions about when snack time will be and what the weekend plans are. 

The stressors COVID has put on families and child care seem to pale compared to the health and economic concerns. But these stressors are so very real to families across Hall County and the nation. They’re also, of course, intertwined with health and economy. 

What happens when parents are forced out of the job market? What happens when family budgets are depleted by extra child care costs?  

What is a single mother employed at a fast food restaurant supposed to do on days her children are now not in school? 

What is a household with two parents working outside the home supposed to do when a school quarantines? 

There are child care options for some of these cases, often at increased cost to parents who are ready to shed the summer day care bill that’s higher than their mortgage. There are also parents being forced to choose between career and child care, and there are employers losing productivity from young employees who must work and parent at the same time. 

And even if grandparents or other family members could step in, there are many who shouldn’t risk exposing themselves to children who’ve been in schools, no matter how many are staying on their side of the hallway and properly wearing masks. 

Coping with all of this is difficult for those privileged enough to have stable housing and families. Families without those things in good times are very likely being pushed past their breaking point now. 

Come Monday, Hall teachers will set eyes on some kids they may not have seen for months. With that, officials expect an uptick in referrals to the Division of Family and Children Services as problems become apparent that have been hidden at home. Providing this safety net is one advantage of starting school in person.  

It’s time for leaders to take note of how COVID-19 has harmed families. Families are the building block of society, and that foundation is shifting.  

Businesses have received PPP loans. Health systems have received mobile units and supplies. What can and should be done to support families? 

Some families are creatively forming “pods” with other families so that children have somewhere to go to learn both academically and socially without the risk of exposure the school setting brings.  

We need more creative ideas like this — more energy, and likely funding, devoted to mitigating the impacts this pandemic is having on families and children. 

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a licensed foster parent.

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