(RNS) — Many of us defend orphaned and vulnerable children like broken records. We continue to deliver the same message that all children deserve a family and those who don’t deserve first priority. Few church members would object to this since Jesus himself spoke constantly about caring for the poor, orphans and vulnerable. And yet, the structure of our world continues to put their needs aside.
On May 12, the United States, Belize, Germany, Indonesia, and Senegal will co-host the second Global COVID-19 Summit. (The first summit was held in September 2021.) The goal of the upcoming summit is to “redouble collective efforts to end the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future health threats.” .
The priorities look good and right, as the agenda includes talks about increasing vaccination rates and improving health care around the world. These are important topics, but there is one glaring omission from the agenda: children.
This unfortunate oversight is particularly serious considering that an estimated 5.2 million children had lost a primary or secondary caregiver to COVID-19 as of October 2021, leaving the stability and well-being of children and limbs remains of the seriously compromised family. .
RELATED: Churches’ ministry to people affected by pandemic shows ‘monumental’ growth, study finds
Somewhere between ‘ending the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic’ and ‘preparing for future health threats’ are millions of vulnerable children and families who need more than a vaccine. and a plan to fight future pandemics, as good as those two goals are. What these children and families need right now is support.
The reality is that, for children, the loss of a caregiver has aggravating effects on them and their families. This puts children at increased risk of being separated from other family members, mental health problems, lack of schooling, lower self-esteem, increased risky sexual behavior and an increase in suicides and violence.
Additionally, a report concluded that “children most likely to lose a parent or other caregiver to COVID-19 are most likely to have faced significant adversity that interferes with their ability to cope with success in new experiences of adversity or trauma.
Let’s not forget the other family members. They often take on the added responsibility of caring for their young parents as they struggle with the loss of a loved one and perhaps the loss of income as well.
There is no scenario where I see Jesus leaving these children and families by the wayside, and that should be the position of his church today as well. So when the most vulnerable are not quite on the global agenda, here is how the church can respond:
First, start at home.
Those of us who work in foster care and family strengthening talk a lot about protecting kinship, that is, caring for extended family members and ensure they are supported physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. What we have learned in our work is that our response to the millions of children who have lost caregivers to COVID-19 must start at home. It is noble to want to help the orphaned and vulnerable children of the world, but many of us have the opportunity to do so in our communities. We can start in our own backyards by stepping in to help where the loss associated with COVID-19 has created a need.
Second, who you support matters. Supporting those working locally, nationally and globally may feel different, but the best help always comes from the individuals and organizations working to keep families strong and united. Many assume that a child who has lost a parent needs an orphanage or foster home to take them in, but most of these children have other family members who just need support. a helping hand to take care of their young parents.
You can donate or volunteer with organizations that meet the needs of vulnerable children and families impacted by COVID-19. By supporting organizations like these, so many children will be able to grow up with their own families. A list of credible organizations can be found here.
RELATED: The world united to pray to save the boy in the well. Why not children who die in war?
Third, the church must use its voice. Advocacy is an essential part of helping those who are pushed to the margins. Often children carry the brunt of trauma in a family and usually suffer in silence. As we stand with suffering children, we stand with Christ. We may feel like we’re repeating ourselves, but with more voice comes more influence. Reach out to your local, state and national leaders as they consider laws and funding to let them know that children who have lost a caregiver due to COVID-19 should be a priority.
I look forward to the day when orphaned and vulnerable children are a top priority for our governments. To this day, as a church, we must continually beat this drum to fight for justice for these children and their families who have suffered great loss and trauma. Let’s not leave them out of our program of care and compassion.
(Dr. Albert L. Reyes is President and CEO of Buckner International. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)