THE MEMES going around the internet in the early days of the pandemic, as schools and daycares shut down, made it clear: the parents are not okay.
A year and a half later, as society reopens, it is becoming increasingly clear: The kids are not okay, either.
In a shocking and tragic incident this week, Patricia Lampron, the principal of the Dr. William Henderson Inclusion School in Dorchester, ordered a 16-year-old girl to leave the school grounds. The girl began punching her in the head, beating Lampron unconscious, according to a report in the Boston Globe. The school serves many students with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities, and the attack shocked the school community.
Parent Dalida Rocha told the Globe that she worried the school had not done enough to prepare students to return after the long pandemic-related closure. “We haven’t done a good job as a society to help children to deal with the traumatic experiences they have gone through with the pandemic,” she said.
Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez voiced similar fears last month amid an uptick of violence at Lawrence High School. The Eagle-Tribune reported that two teens were arrested and a dozen more issued summonses for disorderly conduct after an assault on a male teacher and a spate of fights at the school. Vasquez said the year-long break from school “took a mental and emotional toll” on students and educators, and it will take attention and resources to address that.
The impacts are not felt only through violence. The Gloucester Daily Times said local districts are struggling to address chronic absenteeism. While the paper did not give a reason, this may indicate that students are struggling, fearful, or simply out of the habit of regular school attendance.
Older students in college are not immune from the educational turmoil. Worcester Polytechnic Institute is reeling from four student deaths, two of which were by suicide. The Telegram & Gazette reported that some students feel the administration is not doing enough to address students’ mental health.
Health care providers have long been talking about a mental health crisis among children. Emergency department beds are filled with children in crisis waiting for inpatient psychiatric treatment. As of October 25, there were 191 kids with behavioral health problems “boarding,” waiting for an inpatient bed, according to the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association.
In a recent interview with CommonWealth, Jennifer Cox, director of behavioral health at Baystate Health, said every system serving children is taxed to capacity, likely because of the pandemic. “I don’t think anyone has seen as many kids seeking behavioral health care in emergency departments as there are right now,” Cox said. “Even if it’s not directly related to something COVID-related, just the general disruption and stress of the last two years probably created a huge wave of downstream effects.”
The approval of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for children this week will minimize the threat of COVID to children’s physical health. Helping children, teens, and young adults regain their mental health after the last year-and-a-half will be a far more difficult challenge.