The ongoing pandemic has placed additional stresses on Fairfax County’s young people, but the cancellation of the 2020-21 Youth Survey has made determining the extent of that impact more difficult, county supervisors said Feb. 9.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously requested that County Executive Bryan Hill provide them with a memorandum featuring currently available qualitative and quantitative mental-health data for the county’s youth population.
The board wishes to learn how and to what extent local youths are being affected by the current situation, which in turn will guide the county’s response, said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) in a joint board matter with Supervisor Dalia Palchik (D-Providence).
During the pandemic, remote learning, cancellation of extracurricular programs and implementation of “social-distancing” practices have left many local youths feeling physically and socially isolated, McKay said.
According to the county’s 2019-2020 Youth Survey, about 30 percent of eighth-, 10th- and 12-graders reported experiencing depressive symptoms within the previous year, McKay said. Those factors, which had been rising slowly since 2015, likely were not improved by family financial stress during the pandemic and the last year’s negative political news and racial-justice protests, he said.
“I think all of this is obvious to us and certainly to those of us who have kids at home, who are also navigating through these challenges,” McKay said. “It’s been very tough on our youth and the absence of the survey is a giant void of data for us, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking at these impacts. Skipping an entire year from looking at them is not the way to go.”
McKay’s and Palchik’s board item cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing mental-health-related emergency room visits for children and teens increased considerably last year. The joint board matter also referred to a recent report from Child Trends that indicated black and Hispanic families were more likely than their white and Asian counterparts to suffer COVID-related difficulties, including worsened mental health.
The supervisors’ action is designed to ensure that county officials and their Fairfax County Public Schools counterparts share available data, McKay said.
Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield) said the request for data on local youths was critically important.
“The national data [have] been clear for some time – the impact that being home from school or virtual school has had on our kids – which is why some of us have been saying for quite some time we need to get our kids back into schools,” Herrity said.