Have the young children of NJ affected by the pandemic been forgotten?

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The people of New Jersey have been forever changed by the pandemic, and many programs and services have been created to help people in a variety of ways, but are we paying enough attention to our youngest residents?

One of the state’s leading experts on children does not think so.

According to Cel Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, the forgotten population is children under 5.

“Virtual school is not what works for them, they learn through play, they learn by interacting with other children, and the fact that they haven’t been to school has had an impact. “she said.

She said many of these young children were suddenly taken out of daycare at the start of the pandemic, some never even had the change of interacting with children their age, and now they are immersed in an environment where everyone wears a mask, which can make it more difficult to understand facial cues and socialize with their peers.

“Mental health services for young children and their families are scarce, even before the pandemic, and it’s a different type of service because it’s a service that engages parent and child together,” he said. she declared.

“I think we really need to broaden our vision of what mental health services are and include our younger children and families.”

Zalkind pointed out that when people hear about mental health services for young children, they may have a picture of a baby on a couch, but that’s not what it is.

“This is about the support that families and caregivers need for the healthy development of a child, I think it takes some skill, because you have children who may not be able to communicate,” she declared.

She noted that New Jersey offers an Infant Mental Health Specialist degree, but very few people have earned that degree because there isn’t a real place to use it.

She said “I think it’s time to think differently about this, it’s about the development of our children.”

Zalkind said that when children return to class and different daycare programs, teachers and staff need to have support and sensitivity that many young people have been isolated at home since the start of the pandemic.

“Maybe their verbal skills haven’t developed the same way they did in school, there needs to be some awareness about that,” she said.

She said the current labor shortage is taking a toll on many daycares, which can lead to instability for children. We must therefore find more support for these institutions.

Zalkind said we in New Jersey and the country haven’t really thought about the impact of the pandemic on young children, including those now entering kindergarten.

She pointed out in many cases “they never really interacted with another child, if they’ve been in a child care program, they’ve been taken away, they’ve been told not to touch, they don’t. didn’t share any toys, they didn’t play the same way.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at [email protected]

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