If normal time now seems like a dream, pandemic time is a living nightmare for Quincey Kirscher.
As the executive director of KidSafe Project Society she has the fate of some of the most vulnerable children in Vancouver in her hands and she’s frightened.
“I’m worried sick about them,” she said.
The pandemic lockdown has caused obvious concern for the welfare of women living in abusive relationships. But while an adult can fly to a shelter for safety, a child can’t.
In normal time, KidSafe provided programs for 475 elementary schoolchildren deemed to be at risk if left alone at home. The organization operated in nine schools during the spring, summer and winter holidays.
KidSafe would teach kids how to swim, provide art classes, games, sports, and older kids would be taught such things as how to babysit or first aid.
“It was to enrich their lives and keep them safe,” said Kirscher.
But since the pandemic all schools across the province are closed.
However, concern for the safety of these children has led the Vancouver school board to open two schools so KidSafe can provide sanctuary for them during the pandemic.
Forty children — 20 in each school — are now being cared for at Cunningham Elementary on East 37th Ave. and Grandview Elementary on Woodland Drive from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday.
“The pandemic has forced us to drill down and provide critical support for children. We need to keep our kids safe and families fed and healthy,” said Kirscher.
So KidSafe now has an outreach to get families through the pandemic. Staff provide grab and go food parcels for families each day at the schools and are delivering food to those unable to come in. Last week food was delivered to 60 families.
“We are talking to them asking if they have enough to eat, how’s it’s going? We don’t want them to feel cut off,” she said. “We have one family — six children and two adults — and the baby has a fever so they are all in quarantine, living in a small apartment and they had no groceries. We sent them a big bag and will continue to do this.”
Kirscher doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression about the children enrolled in the program.
“We have many children who can’t be left at home because they are young and their parent or parents are working. There are single mums working as cashiers or at the chicken plant or are out cleaning. We have parents working two or three jobs just to keep their heads above water,” she said.
But some children are living in homes where there is poverty, or abuse, or mental illness or addiction and neglect and the pandemic lockdown — trapping parents and children in a small space — has the potential to create a powder keg.
“Some kids can’t be left at home. When you have a lot of people in a small space it’s hard on everyone spending time in a locked house,” said Kirscher.
“In some cases there is the potential for domestic violence or for kids seeing things they wouldn’t normally see because now they are home during the day. There are many different reasons for these kids being at risk.”
Kirscher said her staff were acting quickly to defuse family tension. In one case there was a risk of domestic violence because the household was out of toilet paper and groceries and the pressure inside the home was building.
“It was stress related, not having access to what they need, but we got it for them,” she said. “I struggle trying to imagine myself in their position. Right now we are trying to just keep them alive, literally.
“We want to make sure our families have food and access to basic necessities. We need to have eyes on the kids so we will know if anyone is going into crisis.”
It’s obviously not only families feeling stressed.
“Yes, it’s keeping me awake at night,” Kirscher admitted. “Usually that’s when I do my best thinking about KidSafe but now it’s turned to fear. I’m very, very worried about a tragedy — that we’ll see some bad situations before this is all over.
“Our team is focused on how we can prevent that and protect our kids. But it’s really hard because we can’t do everything for them and some of them are facing all this by themselves.”
At this point, she’s speaking through tears.
“I’m sorry, it takes a lot for me to crack.”
KidSafe desperately needs $180,000 to keep operating through the pandemic and to expand its program. It has asked The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School COVID-19 campaign for assistance.
“I know these kids and their families and I’m worried sick. Our children are wonderful, interesting human beings, unique, little individuals and they deserve to have everything they need,” said Kirscher.
“To think of them having to face this on top of everything else they face in their lives is really hard. I just want to hug them, but there’s no hugging in COVID.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)