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Although children seem to be relatively invulnerable to the worst health effects of COVID-19 — a silver lining as the virus shuts down public life and overwhelms hospitals — they are not immune to its domino effects, like lost jobs, closed schools and interrupted social services. 

In Connecticut, providers of legal services for children and youth are trying to protect them from the dislocation wrought by the virus. 

Attorney Alice Rosenthal leads the pediatric medical-legal partnership at Yale New Haven Hospital. The partnership is designed to help address health issues that stem from or are worsened by children’s surroundings: factors which include things like socioeconomic status, housing conditions and food security. The low-income families she works with, Rosenthal said, are already under a tremendous amount of pressure on a daily basis.

“This is just sort of pushing everyone over the edge, financially, emotionally and physically,” she told the News.

Rosenthal said that one of her biggest concerns was food security. “All my clients are having food struggles,” she said. 

Rosenthal said she is helping the parents of her clients understand their options, such as learning how to apply online for unemployment or WIC — the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children —  and directs clients to some food pantries that are still open. Rosenthal has bought groceries for some clients herself and dropped off the food on their doorsteps. 

One saving grace has been the eviction moratorium issued by the state’s judicial branch in late March, which is in place until at least May 1. On March 13, Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority banned utility shut-offs in the state in response to a petition from Attorney General William Tong. That ban will last as long as the state’s state of emergency.

Rosenthal said she is working to make sure families are aware of state rules and regulations. One family she works with, for example, had their water shut off about two weeks ago, right before the utility shut-off moratorium was issued. After a call to Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, the family’s water was back on within the hour. Still, Rosenthal said, she is worried about what will happen to her clients when the moratoriums are lifted.

Stacey Violante Cote, an attorney for the Homeless Youth Advocacy Project, represents children and youth up to age 24 who are homeless or at risk for homelessness. Like Rosenthal, Violante Cote is employed by the Center for Children’s Advocacy in Hartford, where she is also the director of operations.

Most of Violante Cote’s clients in the greater Hartford area do not live with their parents. Some are in the child welfare system, while others couch surf at the homes of relatives or peers.

“In a situation like this, that’s why those placements become more problematic,” she said, noting that they often involve many people living together in one house.

One concern is that people, including youth, are being encouraged not to stay in shelters because of the challenge of practicing physical distancing within them. Violante Cote said she and her staff have been checking in to make sure that their clients have places to stay, but noted that some of these places were “precarious.”

Most of her clients, she added, do not have cars and rely on public transportation for all of their needs. Some have been furloughed from their hourly jobs, which Violante Cote said are the “difference between being able to put food on their plate or pay their rent.”

Both Rosenthal and Violante Cote said they are concerned about students who have special needs or learning disabilities at a time when education has moved online. Violante Cote noted that some of her clients who are in school do not have reliable internet or devices to access online classes or virtual educational materials. Rosenthal is worried about children who usually receive disability resources from their schools and kids with learning disabilities who may be less able to access online learning. 

According to the Department of Public Health, Connecticut currently has 3,824 cases of COVID-19, 647 of which are in New Haven County.

Talia Soglin | talia.soglin@yale.edu