Reflecting on child welfare, immigration, and educational justice during COVID-19

For this week’s entry, I want to discuss the issues surrounding child welfare amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week I wrote about the Direct Provision program as a whole and its discriminatory implications. Now I want to dive deeper into the specific ways different groups are marginalized. Whilst doing research on Direct Provision, I’ve come to realize just how vulnerable the children in this program are. Even before COVID-19, this was a concern for many as their physical and mental health were already in jeopardy.

Living in DP poses a threat to children’s wellbeing as they are heavily dependent on the state. The threat lies in the state’s neglect in providing for their needs. 94% of those seeking international protection have experienced traumatic events in their past and are in need of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. There needs to be support for families trying to heal from these experiences but it isn’t provided. Not receiving the required treatment as a child can result in PTSD symptoms lasting into adulthood. These families have experienced enough stress and the Irish government needs to do more in providing adequate mental health support.

There is also the concern about COVID-19 transmission amongst DP centers. Since the residences are privately owned, there is a large disparity in the quality of protection residents are receiving. Some centers have been able to implement social distancing measures and rooms to self-isolate whereas others have only put up notices on walls. There needs to be equality in the care those living in Direct Provision receive.

I want to emphasize again that COVID-19 has fully exposed many structural flaws, and it’s very important to consider the intersectional implications. A majority of migrants are people of color from countries experiencing political unrest and/or civil war. As a result, many of these people develop PTSD but do not have the tools to manage it due to being in a precarious social and economic position.

Imagine being a young child experiencing all this and still not being able to fully grasp the gravity of the situation you’re in. I couldn’t imagine all the emotions and confusion some of these children face. Adding on to that, imagine fleeing to a country whose population is majority white. These kids have just experienced an extremely drastic transition and must now deal with bullying from their peers purely due to the colour of their skin. Now imagine going through all this in the midst of a public health crisis. These children are helplessly watching the people around them become sick and can only wonder when they will also become sick. This is the reality migrant children are facing.

Let’s take the scenario further. A child that’s part of a family that is granted status now has to integrate into Irish society but their family may not speak English well enough, may not have enough finances to find adequate shelter, or have any friends or family to rely on. These all form barriers to their ability to thrive. These poor children stay poor into adulthood and are at risk of repeating the same cycle of poverty with their own families. This is a pattern that is rampant amongst racialized people and it cannot go unnoticed.

My activism doesn’t only rely on intersectionality, but also empathy. I can’t help but imagine myself in the same situation as these children and it terrifies me. These kids are not guilty of any crime and yet they are being punished. Experiencing all this as a child can have serious effects on one’s capacity to thrive later in life. Direct Provision is a system that alienates migrants from Irish society making it extremely difficult to integrate after being granted status. As a Black female who comes from a working class household, it is not difficult for me to imagine poverty. My parents immigrated to Canada from Ghana in the nineties and the first few years of my life were spent sharing a small townhouse with my immediate and some extended family in a working class area of Toronto. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to where I am today with the goal of breaking that generational cycle of poverty. But for many of my peers in Canada, they were not able to take advantage of the same opportunities I did. And I can imagine that this is the same for many children living under Direct Provision.

In conclusion, I want to stress the importance of child welfare for citizens and migrants. The care and support that they receive in the younger years plays a meaningful role in their ability to succeed as adults. At the end of the day, I just want the playing field to be equal for all from birth.

This is the second part of Nadia Hansen’s Forward with Feasta blog.

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