Help at hand for kids left alone at home

Help at hand for kids left alone at home

Covid forces some children to fend for themselves after parents enter treatment

Watching a relative die is distressing enough, but to have do that as a young child is a tragedy. What's even worse is that the death was caused by Covid-19 -- which meant the virus may yet return to haunt the family until the pandemic is finally brought under control.

Kantapon Duang-amporn, a volunteer with the social welfare group Sendai ("Thread"), recounted one such case, which he came across during a visit to the Din Daeng flats -- one of the oldest public housing complexes in Bangkok -- about two weeks ago.

On May 22, he visited the Din Daeng 2 flats with a group of volunteers to help administer Covid-19 tests on tenants. On the third floor of Block 49, he came across a nine-year-old child, whose mother had a sore throat and a fever.

The 40-year-old was then taken to hospital by volunteers and found to have the virus. This led to a longer admission and left the 9-year-old and his three siblings, aged 7, 10 and 14, at home to take care of their 95-year-old grandfather. They were all tested for Covid-19 and were told to stay at home until their test results came back.

In the evening, the children heard a loud bump and found their grandfather slumped on the floor. As they rushed to his side, they realised he was no longer breathing.

Unsure what to do, they simply covered their grandfather's lifeless body with a white cloth and left it there until rescue workers were alerted in the morning.

At least three of the children's neighbours were consequently considered at high-risk of catching Covid-19, so they were placed in quarantine, along with the children.

Mr Kantapon said it is often neighbours who are forced to alert authorities of the need to evacuate Covid-positive individuals in their area in cases when one or more members of a household have tested positive for Covid-19, making it difficult for the family to travel to hospitals or take of their children.

However, he said, Sendai has received several reports where minors were left unattended without adult supervision after their parents and/or guardians were sent to quarantine.

The problem is particularly common in slums and poor communities, so Sendai is urging the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security to step in to protect children in such situations.

Phuwakorn Srinian, a coordinator of the Sendai group, said state agencies should cut the red tape so those infected can receive help quickly, which will help contain transmission.

The group also called on the government to set up an emergency centre to help sick individuals who are disabled or bedridden.

The priority, said Mr Phuwakorn, is to ramp up collaboration between state and private hospitals to ensure there are enough beds for those who need them most.

Penwadee Saengchan, manager of the Duang Prateep Foundation, said the foundation, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and Unicef have held preliminary talks on what to do if the Covid-19 outbreak escalates further.

One focus was the provision of care for migrant workers' children -- many of whom do not have a support system which Thai workers have, such as families which could take care of their children if they were to be brought in for isolation or treatment.

"We must find a proper place for children who become deprived of parental care during the Covid-19 crisis. But finding accommodation or qualified carers to mind the children is no piece of cake," she said.

She said the temporary care facility should be close to Klong Toey district, where many poor families and migrants live.

That said, the foundation can't rent out an existing daycare facility, as such City Hall has barred them from operating due to the pandemic.

Ms Penwadee said the foundation is looking for a vacant shophouse to rent.

Thanikan Pornpongsaroj, a Palang Pracharath Party MP for Constituency 7 covering Dusit and Bang Sue districts, said the party might approach the military to seek its permission to turn more unoccupied buildings in its barracks into field hospitals.

The buildings need to be near the slums, she said, adding several army units in her constituency have allowed some of their buildings to be converted into quarantine facilities.

They house nearby residents who tested positive for Covid-19 but were unable to quarantine at home due to space limitations.

The project has been given the go-ahead by the government, and the buildings will be properly partitioned to adhere public health and safety guidelines, she said.

Such facilities would be important as there are many high-density communities in Bang Sue and Dusit districts -- 50 crowded neighbourhoods in the former and 81 in the latter -- with Dusit district reporting more widespread infections.

"Isolating those with high risk of infection quickly is in order. You can imagine many family members living together under a single roof. It's barely possible to escape the virus," the MP warned.

She said the project could be emulated in other districts of Bangkok or other provinces. "If the quarantine facilities are available close to home, the children won't feel neglected," Ms Thanikan said.

Anukul Peedkaew, the deputy permanent secretary for social development and human security, said for families with children, the elderly and disabled, a single infection can be devastating for the entire household.

The virus can spread more rapidly in such families, and they need help the most, he said.

Since the discovery of Covid-19 cases there, the Din Daeng flats have been regularly disinfected.

Volunteers are also keeping an eye on families whose breadwinners are currently in quarantine, he said.

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