By Sophie Hurewitz, Duke undergraduate student ’22
The 2021 Sulzberger Distinguished Lecture Series featured Dr. Cynthia Garcia Coll who has devoted the past 30 years of her career studying child development. An adjunct professor in the Pediatrics Department at the University of Puerto Rico Medical School and Professor Emerita at Brown University, Dr. Garcia Coll was introduced by The Center for Child and Family Policy’s own Dr. Lisa Gennetian as having expanded the field beyond the “white, Western-centric, sometimes patriarchal perspective.”
Dr. Garcia Coll began her presentation by sharing the distressing reality that the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic downfall has had dramatically higher impacts on Black communities, Indigenous communities, and people of color (BIPOC) than on non-BIPOC populations. Emphasizing that existing racism and inequality are large factors contributing to the pandemic’s impact on BIPOC populations, Dr. Garcia Coll highlighted the notable disparities in positive COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, unemployment and economic uncertainty, food and housing insecurity, disruptions in childcare and education, failure to receive Cares Act stimulus checks, and racial or ethnic discrimination.
Dr. Garcia Coll further stated that COVID-19-related unemployment and economic uncertainty are not unique to the United States. According to 2020 data from the UN Development Programme, as a result of the pandemic the global per capita income is expected to fall around 4 percent, pushing between 40 to 60 million people into extreme poverty. COVID-19-related food insecurity is also a global problem: approximately 205 million individuals will face crisis levels of hunger as a result of the pandemic, according to the World Food Programme. “One of the issues at the world level is that we’re going backwards in many of the statistics if we don’t do something seriously, consistently, and systematically,” Dr. Garcia Coll added.
These significant and troubling racial and ethnic disparities extend far beyond economic and food instability into much more nuanced aspects of life in a pandemic. For example, data from the 2017-2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey reveals that only about 20 percent of Black or African American individuals and about 15 percent of Hispanic or Latinx individuals are able to telework. Dr. Garcia Coll reminded viewers that women of color also face a “double inequality.” “Women are on the front lines,” she explained, citing evidence that women and women of color are overrepresented in frontline worker jobs.
The degree of pandemic-related childcare and education disruptions that families have faced over the past year are directly correlated to racial and ethnic disparities in the American workforce. Dr. Garcia Coll highlighted the Society for Research in Child Development’s work revealing how the closing of childcare centers and schools resulted in increased stress for BIPOC parents and caregivers, lower quality education for BIPOC children as a result of disparities in access to computers and Internet at home, a loss of food stability as a result of decreased school-based food services, regression in special education goals, and an overall decrease in academic and peer socialization for BIPOC children.
Dr. Garcia Coll urged attendees to consider why the impact of COVID-19 on BIPOC families and children is so much worse than for others. “Hurricane Katrina and Maria,” she explained, “were two episodes that really showed how inequality and racism affects a disaster… a natural disaster or a man-made disaster.” Dr. Garcia Coll emphasized the importance of theoretical frameworks in understanding the intersection of global economic and social disparities for people of color. Her Integrative Model, first developed in 1996, “was the first time that the words racism, prejudice, discrimination, and oppression were used to talk about children’s development.”
“Every society has social stratification,” Dr. Garcia Coll acknowledged, “and in the United States, it’s been basically race, social class, ethnicity, and gender.” The Integrative Model illustrates how resources flow, or don’t flow, to populations based on social processes and classifications. These structural and societal mechanisms “become a major force in the development of families and children.” It is for this reason that Dr. Garcia Coll underscored the importance of “systems and elements that help ‘set the odds’” for BIPOC families and children. She urged audience members to “start way earlier than [when] we intervene right now.”
So what now? How do we support BIPOC families and children in overcoming these increasing disparities? Dr. Garcia Coll challenged participants to consider the following: “We need to think about, as a world, are we going to go back [in history]… are we going to allow these disasters to push us back just because we are not willing to work on the root causes?”
In her work, Dr. Garcia Coll has identified numerous areas in which the United States can better support BIPOC families and children, including better acknowledging and addressing racism and the national scope of inequality, dealing with the roots of the problems instead of the symptoms, and working systematically and preventatively to support BIPOC communities.
“If we want to prevent what has happened with the pandemic… we need to have people working at the individual, working at the community, working at the policy, but coordinated,” Dr. Garcia Coll advised, “we need to be working in partnership with communities.” To better integrate American systems of intervention, Dr. Garcia Coll called for the development of cross-sector initiatives to more effectively align strategies to address barriers in data sharing, financing, and other challenges to collaboration. She also emphasized the importance of early intervention and the detection of early-life adversity, cultural competency, the improvement of trauma-informed referral and intervention systems, increased access to parent and caregiver support programs and policies, and the development of initiatives to provide comprehensive wraparound services.
“No more Band-Aids,” urged Dr. Garcia Coll. Instead, we must employ “evidence-based, integrated, systemic, intergenerational, and interdisciplinary” approaches to support BIPOC families and children.
Additional Resources and Events:
Society for Research in Child Development, Child Development in a Diverse Majority Society Lecture Series: Constructing the ‘Other’
Society for Research in Child Development Child Evidence Briefs:
- Understanding the Impacts of Natural Disasters on Children
- COVID-19 Job and Income Loss Jeopardize Child Well-Being: Income Support Policies Can Help
- Child Care and COVID-19: Support Children by Investing in Early Educators and Program Sustainability
Sophie Hurewitz is a junior at Duke majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Global Health and a certificate in Child Policy Research. She plans to become a pediatrician to combine her interests in health and education policy with clinical medicine and child and adolescent development.