NCFA is preparing a manual for reopening children’s summer clubs


Coronavirus “prompts families to adopt negative coping mechanisms that harm the best interest of their children”

June 6, 2020

Amman- The Novel Coronavirus epidemic crisis has prompted Jordanian families to adopt negative coping mechanisms, for which children are paying the price, in light of economic hardship experienced by the majority of families and the absence of child-friendly facilities.

According to families interviewed by Al-Ghad newspaper, leaving children under the age of 12 years alone at home is one of the most prominent negative coping methods that working families had to resort to not just because of the closure of schools and summer day clubs but also due to the economic burdens inflicted by the pandemic.  Families told Al-Ghad that even if clubs reopen they will not send their children to such activities due to their eroded incomes and fear of losing their jobs soon, which entails cutting expenses to the minimum.

Maysa (a pseudonym), a working mother of four, says, “As a result of the compelling circumstances my family is going through, I am forced to leave my children under the care of their older sister, who is 13 years old.  I have never considered this option before, and I know this is wrong, but I have no other option during working hours. ”

The eldest daughter takes care of her siblings, who are 5, 7 and 9 years old, while the mother is at her workplace. The mother realizes that her daughter bears a great responsibility, but there are no other options, especially since the husband had left to one of the Gulf countries to hunt for a job a few months before the border closure in Jordan, and there are no relatives in the area close to the family’s residence.

"My husband is currently stuck in one of the Gulf countries, and I am responsible for everything that concerns children, including securing their needs and home purchases," added Maysa, saying that “In the first period, there was cooperation from the employer in implementing flexible work. But now I feel that I can’t continue working from home as I feel that there is a need to be in the workplace all the time; circumstances are very difficult and there could be layoffs of some workers  at any time, and I am not in an economic situation that allows me to lose my work. ”

Maysa resorted to the gradual method of leaving her children alone at home; at first she left the house for half an hour or so to buy needs so that she could measure the extent of her children's ability to manage their own affairs, and she made sure to secure the house and remove any sources that might pose a danger to them.

 Maysa goes on to say: "When I returned to work, I made sure to buy a smartphone for my children to keep in constant contact with them on video calls and I used to call my neighbour to check on them constantly."

Maysa is not an exceptional case; other working mothers had to do the same. With the end of the school year, Rana (a pseudonym) also resorted to encouraging her 11-year-old son to stay up late at night in order to ensure that he wakes up late the next morning.

She says, "My work hours are not long, only two hours between the time my son wakes up and the time I come home. I make sure to secure the house completely, and my son is quite reliable."

In previous years, Dima resorted to sending her children to summer clubs and later to the grandfather's house until the end of her work. “The summer club used to be an entertainment for the children, and also lifted some burden off my mother’s shoulders. Today my mother cannot bear the responsibility of caring for 3 Children for eight hours a day; childcare is stressful. ”

Summer clubs and childcare centres are still suspended; only nurseries that provide care for children from the age of 70 days to 5 years were allowed to work under strict conditions.

The continued suspension of summer clubs and childcare centres, according to experts, is a source of concern for the safety and protection of the children of working families within the age group of 5 to 12 years, as the state has so far not provided any alternatives to them. Meanwhile, experts confirm that it is not permissible to leave any child under 12 years old unaccompanied at home.

The demand to reopen summer clubs or find alternatives for childcare in this age group was also coupled with requests to provide government support or aid from the maternity allocations within the social security funds to help parents bear the expenses, especially since a large proportion of female employees lost part of their income, either through deductions from salaries by 30% or due to the cancellation of allowances.

In this context, Childhood and Parental Counselling Specialist Sirsa Qoursha says, "The general rule says that a child under the age of 12 years should not be left alone at home, and should not be left in charge of a child younger than him/her."

She goes on saying that even in the age group of those over 12 years, the abilities vary from one child to the other; hence, we must bear in mind the developmental characteristics of each child and the nature of his/her personality, as there are children who are more capable of taking responsibility than others.

In the absence of clubs and care homes for the age group 5-12 years, Qoursha believes that there are a set of alternatives that can be attained to provide protection for children without affecting the work of parents, which are mostly in the form of services that can be provided by employers.

"Although in principle I do not encourage leaving the children alone, but in very urgent situations, parents must take all necessary steps to mitigate the risks. These steps are to be taken gradually, like leaving the child for a short period of less than an hour alone, and then increasing the time bit by bit, until the child is made aware of the basics of public safety and protection and we are able to assess his/her good judgement,” says Qoursha, noting that "the house must be secured from all sources of danger, and parents must make sure to coordinate with one of the relatives or acquaintances who are closest to the house to contact and help in case of an emergency."

But the best alternative to ensuring child protection, from Qoursha's point of view, is for employers to provide options for their employees that guarantee the protection of their children, such as applying flexible work or allowing work from home. In cases where this is not possible, Qoursha suggests “alternating between mothers who work in the same institution in taking care of children, or that institutions appoint female caregivers (nannies) to take care of children and carry out group activities that are beneficial to children during the period of their mothers’ absence. The most feasible option is to continue to choose flexible work and work from home.”

For his part, NCFA Secretary-General, Dr. Muhammad Miqdadi, says, “We still wish the government would give more thought to this issue, particularly with respect to children of working families; although nurseries have been reopened and many other sectors have returned to work, clubs and child entertainment centre are still closed, and this has a great negative impact on child protection and the welfare and mental health of children who have lived for months in a state of anxiety and social isolation.”

Miqdadi indicated that “NCFA is currently working on preparing a manual similar to the nurseries manual, with operating procedures for reopening summer clubs and children's centres; it is being prepared in cooperation with the ministries of Social development, Education and Health and the National Team for Childhood Development.”

Miqdadi, on the other hand, warned against the economic hardship experienced by families which may push them to refrain from registering their children in the centres, calling in this context to allow schools, whether governmental or private, to open summer centres free of charge or at nominal prices so as to provide protection for children of working families.

While no study or survey has addressed the percentage of children who were left alone at home during the Corona pandemic, the latest figures according to the Population and Family Health Survey issued by the Department of Statistics in 2018 revealed that there is an "increase in negative behaviours associated with the high percentage of parents who leave their children alone."

Results showed that "16% of children under the age of five are left alone or left in the care of another child for more than one hour during the week," illustrating that the percentage of young children who were left alone or in the care of another child under the age of ten increased from 9% in 2012 to 16% in 2017.