Among memes, elbow bumping and toilet paper stockpiling, Coronavirus has led our society to ask: Should we send kids home from school?
The simple answer is yes. School closure will most likely significantly decrease the spread of the virus. It seems pretty obvious: close the schools and let everyone chill at home, away from festering disease, unwashed hands and enforced three feet social distancing zones.
But it’s far from simple.
Chris Reykdal, the superintendent of public instruction for the US state of Washington, which has been hit hard by coronavirus, states that he hesitates to close schools and send “a million Washington kids home knowing that for hundreds of thousands of them, they simply will not have any parents at home.”
Perhaps more than any other issue that has arisen as a result of COVID-19, the lack of alternate carers for children has exposed the great lack of social capital in today’s society.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, Social Capital is defined as
‘The networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.’
We lack this resource in Western countries, with both parents tied to the workplace at the expense of any emergency care required for their children.
So how have people sought to address this issue as more and more schools close worldwide?
In Italy, many grandparents started caring for their grandchildren once schools were closed down. Medical authorities in Italy are warning against this trend, stating that it may well lead to increased risk amongst the elderly there. Meanwhile Germany’s social affairs minister is urging grandparents to stay away from public transport and children.
All of the above cannot be avoided in a world where it is common and unavoidable for both parents to undertake paid work full time. Technology has given us many gifts, meaning an increasingly greater possibility for parents and others to work from home which is to be applauded. However, in some industries that just isn’t possible.
So we are left with the question: What is to be done with all these children, since their parents are unable to stay home and care for them? Should the children perhaps stay at school, kept away from their grandparents and anyone else they may infect?
How long will it be until someone calls for locked down child internment camps?
We may joke about such things, but the societal and health impact of keeping schools open in the midst of an epidemic is no joke. Have we got to the point that we are risking our entire nation’s health simply because we have so poorly managed our country’s interrelationships?
Imagine if we lived in a world where each family was a strong and secure unit, self-sufficient in terms of caring for its most vulnerable, and able to make choices that led to better outcomes not only for themselves, but for the whole of society?
It’s not just about coronavirus. A common inquiry, from academic researchers to mummy blogs, is the question: What should a worker do when their child is sick and needs to stay home from school or childcare?
Taking the day off to care for a sick child is impossible for many parents who simply run out of sick days and other leave. For casual workers, these days are often not available at all, meaning they have to forfeit a day’s wages which for many is simply not affordable. Spending time with a sick child can lead to career worries amongst parents and is linked to lower wages according to a Swedish study.
If a parent is forced, through any of the above factors, to send an unwell child to daycare, this can lead to a spread of sickness and inadequate care for both well and unwell children.
And beyond the occasion of sickness, there are many reasons that a parent’s presence in the home leads to great societal good; greater emotional stability for children, savings on prepackaged food and grocery costs, more availability of parents to invest in their communities, and less time spent on roads, leading to benefits for the environment.
We can see that a stay at home parent, as opposed to a stay-at-work parent, isn’t just for those who are ‘too lazy’ or privileged to go back to paid work. It’s a positive investment that would benefit all of society long before the next plague comes.
Click here to read the Australian Family Association’s campaign calling for reforms to the Personal Income Tax, Parental Leave Pay and Child Care Subsidy.