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Is It Safe to Take My Kid to a Protest?

There are rarely risk-free decisions or one-size-fits-all answers, but this risk assessment matrix and decision tree can help parents make the best one.

fatherly logo The Decider

In the best of times, decision-making is tough for parents. Raising a well-adjusted, healthy human is complicated as hell. Toss in the COVID-19 pandemic, economic depression, and social injustice and your most basic choices become stress-inducing nightmares. There are rarely risk-free decisions or one-size-fits-all answers, but there are ways to assess and respond to risk.

For months now, protesters have spoken out against systemic racism towards Black people, sparked by cries of justice for George Floyd. Though the protests never disappeared completely, they’ve gained new strength after the Louisville police officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor were absolved of guilt by grand jury. You’ve talked to your kid about racism, and they want to do something about it. You want to do something about it too. So you consider a protest. But is it safe?

There’s a COVID-19 risk anytime you go into a public space — especially one with lots of people crowded together, even if it is outside. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. “What we can do are things to reduce the risk,” says William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. “You have to decide what your own personal risk tolerance is for yourself and for your family members.”

You want your kid to have a sense of morality. If you’re reading this, you probably support the social justice protests lighting this country right now and what they stand for. But even if you’ve taught your kid that racism and police brutality are wrong, you can send a message of complacency if you don’t do anything about it. Of course, some protests have turned violent, such as with police officers tear-gassing peaceful protests, which is especially dangerous for kids. Then there’s the fact that we’re in a pandemic. If you bring your kid, they should quarantine at home for two weeks afterwards, putting childcare out of the question and making your work life that much harder. That’s a lot of risks to take into account. Let’s map them out.

Using a Risk Assessment Matrix to Make the Protest Decision

Often used by businesses and other organizations, risk assessment matrices help decision-makers consider the riskiness of a choice at a glance. When reading a matrix, first identify the actions you’re assessing — in this case, protesting or staying at home. Then, identify the potential consequences of those actions. The consequences we will consider are to public health, family safety, child development, and family values.

The matrices compare the severity of a consequence (from insignificant to catastrophic) to the likelihood of it happening. By putting those values into a color-coded table, you can get an immediate sense of the riskiness of an action. Of course, these risk matrices require a bit of guesswork. COVID-19 risk varies from community to community.

The consequences in the matrix fall into three different color categories: green, yellow, and red. Green means that the risk is low enough that you can take the action without worry. Yellow means that you can go ahead with some precautions. If a consequence falls in the red, think twice. Stop and reduce risk before moving forward.

Different actions will have different mixes of red, yellow, and green consequences. And each action’s consequence, should it happen, will have a different severity rating from 0 (insignificant) to 5 (catastrophic). No choice is perfect. The total score listed below the matrix is a number to help you get a sense of the total risk associated with the choice.

Different families will have different risk tolerances. Wealth families can take on economic risk. Healthy families can take on some risk of exposure. These matrices should be read in light of personal considerations, not as generalized risk maps.

  • Public health: The COVID-19 risk from 0 (insignificant) to 5 (catastrophic) that the action has on public health.
    • Protests have the potential to cause COVID-19 outbreaks, but data from June and July shows that they probably don’t increase case numbers.
  • Safety: The risk the action has on your child’s safety.
    • For example, police across the country are tear-gassing peaceful protesters.
  • Development: The risk the action has on delaying your child’s education and social/mental development.
    • For example, if your kid attends a protest, they should quarantine for two weeks afterwards. That means no playdates, school, or daycare.
  • Values: The risk the action has on your family’s moral values and the moral upbringing of your child.
    • For example, skipping out on protests that you believe in without taking any other action signals to your kid that it’s unnecessary to speak up against injustice.

Mapping the Risk

Total Score = 15

A family that takes their child to a protest scores does well with values — leading by example and following their conviction — but less so with health. This is because protests are crowded, involve lots of screaming and chanting, and not everyone wears masks. There are ways to diminish the health risk — with masks, as much social distancing as possible, and a two-week quarantine after. You can increase the safety of your protesting if you join a family protest and go in the middle of the day, when the chances of clashes are greatly diminished.

Total Score = 15

To not protest is, in many ways, to miss a teaching moment in which a child sees people democratically expressing their values — of social justice and racial equity. But if the household is at risk of severe COVID-19, it likely isn’t worth it. If, for instance, the grandparents are in the house, or a parent needs to work and can’t afford to quarantine after the protest, actions can be taken at home. For example, they could cook meals for protesters or decide as a family where to donate money. This is a way to lower the risk to one’s values and bring it more in line with health and safety.

Making the Decision

Now that you have a better sense of what the risks are, you can use this decision tree to get a personalized recommendation about whether your family in particular should attend a protest. Because your family is unique, and you have unique needs. This decision-making tool is here to guide you.

Ready to go to a protest?

There are certain steps you should take to keep your family as safe as possible at a protest:

  • Talk to your child beforehand about what will happen at the protest and why you’re going.
  • Pack water and snacks, tissues, hand sanitizer, identification, money, and first aid supplies.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Don’t wear contacts. Do wear comfortable shoes, sunglasses, and a hat.
  • Go during the day.
  • Carry a sign instead of chanting to reduce the chance of transmitting the virus.
  • Try to stay 6 feet away from others, even if that means staying on the edge of the protest.
  • Have a plan to get out quick if the protest turns violent.
  • Have a plan for where to meet if your family gets separated.
  • Plan for the next two weeks of self-quarantine after the protest.
  • Have a plan for what to do if you or your child gets sick after the protest.