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COVID-19 has hit families hard across Virginia, but it might take years to understand how badly children will be affected over the course of their lives.

Some of the immediate impacts are clear, according to Lauren Snellings, the research director at Voices For Virginia's Children, a statewide child advocacy organization.

"We're thinking about nutrition," Snellings said. "More families are going hungry prior to the pandemic in Virginia. One in 10 families reported not having enough food to eat. These numbers have risen during the pandemic -- upwards of 16 percent for families and double the rate of that for Black families."

Snellings added that the pandemic would hurt the mental health of kids in the state. Already, she said, one in four kids have experienced a mental health problem.

"Now, with the trauma that they're kind of experiencing and facing, we expect these numbers to be much higher," she said. "So those are just some of the sneak peaks of what Virginia's families and children are kind of experiencing and feeling."

But just how bad the pandemic will hit kids, and how it will affect their lives in the long-term, isn't clear. One challenge is that good data hasn't come in yet. Snellings noted that organizations like hers can make predictions, but they don't know exactly what's happening now.

"We do the best that we can with the data that we have and we can use predictive analysis," she said.

The data is spottier for localities, so even if we can get a picture of how the pandemic impacts kids in Virginia, we might not know how kids in Hampton Roads are faring.

The other problem is that the chaos of the pandemic is affecting researchers' ability to collect data on its impacts. For example, Snellings says, the pandemic might make it harder for agencies like Child Protective Services to respond to reports of child abuse. So a decrease in reported cases might not mean the situation has improved  -- it could actually mean the situation has worsened. 

Snellings has reached out to other organizations for help.

"We've been having conversations with people like the Department of Education and Social Services about indicators that we typically use and track for child health and well-being," she said. "How do we even interpret these or kind of validate their credibility?"

Snellings gives another example of the problems that bedevil her -- the standardized tests in Virginia and other states that schools use to track student achievement.

"How do you implement those virtually?" she asked. "How how do you have one-on-ones with your kids and be able to assess all of the areas of kindergarten readiness that they need?"

What is clear, however, is that the pandemic is causing traumatic events for children. 

“Traumatic events are typically situations that are out of our control, beyond our usual experience, and cause us to feel as though our lives or the lives of others may be in danger,” wrote Adam D. Brown, PsyD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health in the article Trauma in Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic

"We recognize economic [insecurity] as one of the ways in which children and families can experience that trauma," Snellings added. "So when you're experiencing that, it can really impact their development long-term, introducing new levels of trauma and instability."

Chloe Edwards, a policy analyst at Voices for Virginia Children and Adults, said systemic racism has exacerbated the pandemic's effects. 

"We recognize that we're fighting two public crises here," Edwards said, "which is COVID-19 and racism as a public health crisis."

According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, "COVID-19 has unequally affected many racial and ethnic minority groups, putting them more at risk of getting sick and dying..."

Edwards said Virginia made progress when it passed a state voting rights act and when it recognized racism as a public health crisis. But she said the job is unfinished.

"We have some more work to do in really deconstructing four hundred years of oppression moving forward," she said.