Six ways cities can support babies, toddlers and their caregivers during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond

Authors: Julien Vincelot and Patrin Watanatada, Bernard van Leer Foundation. The original post is accessible here.

How Covid-19 may affect the youngest city residents for life

Babies and toddlers are vulnerable. They require constant love and care to thrive, along with good healthcare and nutritious food. The science tells us that these first few years of life are foundational for lifelong health, learning and happiness. In many cities, existing inequities make it far harder for some babies and toddlers than others to get the play, love, food or healthcare they need.

The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified many of these inequities. Urban life has been turned upside down, putting great stress on families and reducing their access to services and support systems. For example:

The most vulnerable families are typically the worst affected, including families living in heavily polluted urban areas, those in informal settlements, migrant families such as asylum seekers and refugees, homeless familieswomen and children at risk of domestic violence, and those facing existing discrimination related to race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or age.

A pregnant woman facing the sea in Havana, Cuba. Credits: Bernard van Leer Foundation.

Yet Covid-19 is also showing us elements of a better city for babies and for all

Despite all these negative impacts, the Covid-19 pandemic is also showing glimpses of what a city that works for babies — and for everyone — might look like.

What can cities do?

Families can do much to buffer their young children from harm — from lockdowns or other stressful situations — just by loving them and playing with them. But to be able to do this, families themselves need to be supported by their communities, workplaces and governments. That doesn’t necessarily require new solutions: often, it just means considering the needs of babies, toddlers, and the adults surrounding them more systematically in existing interventions.

Here are six ways for cities to support families during and after Covid-19.

1. Make sure that essential urban services and public goods — sanitation, public space, nature, transit — are directed to vulnerable families with babies and toddlers.

Toddlers and their caregivers with masks in Beijing, China. Credits: Jeff Niu.

2. Build urban resilience for the next disaster.

Covid-19 appears to be having worse impacts in cities with air pollution problems, while communities with strong existing networks have proved better to cope. With this in mind, the responses to this pandemic should also look to prepare for future challenges — including potential further waves of the virus:

3. Boost support for caregiver mental health.

Ensure that mental health helplines stay operational, and expand existing services to allow online access. Nurture peer-to-peer support groups and activate social protection and welfare networks to help caregivers access food and economic support. Think specifically about the needs of caregivers working in essential services: what do they need to keep the city running?

4. Protect women and children from domestic violence.

Lockdowns have led to a spike in domestic abuse of women and children: in France, reports are up by 30% and 20% respectively, with “urgent” cases up 60%. In response, France has set up support centres for victims. Providing shelter in hotel rooms is another option.

Strengthen alert systems by providing opportunities to report abuse in services that remain open, such as supermarkets and pharmacies. Enable victims to report abuse discreetly via SMS or internet messaging when they cannot escape being confined with the perpetrator. Maintain hotlines and communicate about the issue on official channels.

5. Make sure families with young children can continue to get key services such as childcare, healthcare, nutrition and early learning.

Many childcare options are no longer available, but some governments are ensuring that essential workers can still access childcare. Some US states are even paying for childcare for essential workers. Paris has offered free childcare for parents working in food-related businesses.

Many organisations are helping parents to access early learning resources online. In New Zealand, the government is providing early years TV programming to reach families without internet access.

6. Provide parenting services digitally or remotely when possible.

Digital means of service provision are often possible — such as telemedicine, or online parent coaching. Parenting services around the world are going online: Tel Aviv’s Digitaf is sharing information related to Covid-19, for example, while Jordan’s Queen Rania Foundation is adapting its parent education programme for delivery via WhatsApp. See our brief ‘Five ways health and social services can support babies, toddlers and the people who care for them through the Covid-19 pandemic’ for more examples.

Additional resources

As the Impact of Coronavirus Grow, Micromobility Fills in the Gaps

A good explanation of micro-mobility, which is rapidly expanding due to Covid-19.

COVID-19: Transportation Response Centre

A global platform of transportation solutions for Covid-19.

Temporary Mobility Changes for the COVID-19 Transition Period in Tirana

Covid-19 response guidelines for transport design in Tirana.

Covid-19 Research by The Centric Lab

Scientific research on the urban health impact of Covid-19 with a strong equity lens.

Managing Public Space in the New Normal

A study on public space usage in Covid-19 North American epicentre New York City.

Bogotá Expands Bike Lanes to Curb Coronavirus Spread

Overview of bicycle lane expansion measures in Bogota, one of the first city to adapt public space to social distancing.

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