A Pandemic-Formed Future
What does a future formed by the COVID-19 pandemic hold? How can we meet the needs of families and children in this future?
On July 28, 2020, partners and friends of the Children’s Cabinet came together (virtually) to tackle these big questions. This ambitious workshop explored issues across many domains—society, technology, economy, environment, and politics—deliberately posing thorny questions. It also taught participants how to apply strategic foresight (a structured way to anticipate a range of future outcomes) to their work and to their thinking about the pandemic and other challenges.
The Insights to a Pandemic-Formed Future for Young Children in Kansas workshop featured 85 individuals representing organizations that serve children in varied settings across Kansas. Participants engaged in a lively, wide-ranging, big-picture discussion using Foundations for Flourishing Futures, a forecast of trends affecting children and families, as a jumping-off point. While the discussion focused on Kansas, the insights that emerged will help support children and families across the country as we all navigate life in the wake of COVID-19.
Most Prominent Insights
Families’ emotional needs must be addressed.
Many people are emotionally reeling during this uncertain and unstable time. There has never been a greater need to create more human-centered institutions. We must explore what it means to produce such institutions. How might we create environments where people feel safe to bring their whole selves, including their sense of loss, fear, anxiety, anger, and despair? How might our organizations model the social-emotional habits that our programs seek to promote in young children?
Connections are essential.
Crises can bring us together, but as the COVID-19 crisis has persisted, those connections have frayed. The organization of mutual aid groups in the early days of the pandemic reflects our desire to give and receive help in crisis. It also underscores the absence of such supportive structures in much of modern life. We must foster both the feeling of connectedness and structures that promote connections—individual social capital as well as organizations that help families. We need trusted institutions at all levels of society to provide a web of support.
Community partnerships are key.
Organizations need to change how they do business to better reach families with young children. Many participants mentioned the need to avoid top-down approaches and instead to partner with community members to develop and deliver educational messages and resources. An example is the promotora model. Promotoras, or promotores de salud, are community health workers in LatinX communities. As members (and often well-respected leaders) of their communities, promotoras can deliver culturally sensitive, Spanish-language health messages, often grounded in their shared experience with community members.
Think big about the future!
The workshop used the process of strategic foresight: thinking about the long term and imagining that the future could take many forms. Participants found this method liberating and exhilarating. This approach can help all thinkers recognize their assumptions and broaden their outlook. It sparks bold ideas—exactly what we’ll need to confront the challenges of our post-COVID world and discover new ways to serve children and families.