By Jackie Mader, Photo: Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report, The Hechinger Report, October 25, 2022
At the beginning of 2020, Brisandi Ruiz was hopeful about the year ahead. Her two-year-old was enrolled in a high-quality preschool program near their home in Greenbelt, Maryland. The office manager of a medical technician company, Ruiz was working to validate her medical degree from her home country of the Dominican Republic, so she could practice medicine in the United States. Her husband, Francisco Villar, had steady work in the construction field, and they were planning to have a second child. But then reports of cases of the novel coronavirus hit the news. By March, most of the nation was under lockdown.
Her son’s preschool closed, and Villar saw a steady decline in his work hours. It didn’t take long for Ruiz to feel overwhelmed. “Trying to do all these things, keeping the house, working from home, calling customers—it was driving me crazy,” she said. The couple tabled their plans to get pregnant. Soon, Ruiz had to quit her job. Short on savings, the family saw their financial situation quickly worsen. Unemployment benefits temporarily helped, but Ruiz began to fear that if they couldn’t get a stable income soon, her family might struggle to afford food and end up homeless.
When she found a new job as an allergy technician in September 2020, it didn’t pay enough for the couple to send their son to a licensed childcare center, so a neighbor watched him at her house for a more affordable fee. But as her son tried to adjust to yet another disruption in his routine, Ruiz noticed a change in his behavior. Being home with his family for several months had made him more attached; in the mornings, he was nervous and didn’t want to enter the neighbor’s house. He was frequently scared, had more tantrums, and began to regress in potty training. He stopped writing his name, too. Even at home with his parents, he was often in a bad mood and had little interest in playing outside.