Over the course of the pandemic, it’s been apparent to anyone who works with or parents small children how deeply the nation’s difficulties have been felt by its youngest citizens. Outside of Helena, Montana, childcare center owner Rachel Supalla has seen an unmistakable uptick in behavioral issues resembling those experienced by Ruiz’s son. Last year, when kids started to trickle back to her three childcare centers after several months at home during the lockdown, she could tell that they’d been affected by the sudden changes in their lives. Supalla, who opened the first of her Discovery Kidzone Learning Centers in 2009, noticed that children were having more emotional challenges and that their social skills were declining. They seemed lost, she said, confused by the disruptions to their routines. When transitioning between classroom activities, they often threw tantrums, pushed and hit their peers, or resisted teachers’ guidance.

Across the country, parents and educators are struggling to assess and alleviate the pandemic’s toll on young children. Covid-19 exacerbated inequality, plunging families on the brink into poverty and leaving millions of kids without enough food or in housing they couldn’t expect to stay in, not to mention subject to emotional distress from family members’ illness or death. Childcare arrangements unraveled as many centers closed or childcare was deemed too risky, especially if it involved older friends, neighbors, or relatives more at risk of complications from the coronavirus.

Social support programs such as food and housing assistance and unemployment aid struggled to meet the extreme demand. Ultimately, the pandemic accentuated the weaknesses of a childcare system that was already deeply flawed. In the United States, high-quality options have long been unaffordable for many, and families are often left to choose providers from a patchwork landscape that varies markedly in quality and level of oversight. For adults in low-wage jobs, especially those who work unpredictable or atypical hours, reliable, high-quality care can be especially elusive.

Read the full article about trauma for young children from the pandemic by Jackie Mader at The Hechinger Report.