Staying at Home Is Taking a Toll on Families

A sample is taken from a child’s nose at a mobile Coronavirus testing site at the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science Wednesday in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(CN) — Life in Covid-19 lockdown is unsettling the physical and mental wellbeing of parents and their children, according to a new national survey published Friday in the journal Pediatrics.

A survey taken in early June by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center asked parents with children younger than 18 to assess changes in their health, insurance status, food security, use of public food assistance, child care, and use of health care services since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

The survey showed that 27% of parents reported worsening mental health for themselves, 14% reported worsening behavioral health for their children, and 24% of parents reported loss of regular child care.

Results were similar across race, ethnicity, income, education level and location, though women and unmarried parents reported a larger decline in mental wellbeing.

Families with young children report worse mental health than those with older children, indicating the central role that child care arrangements play in the day-to-day functioning of the family. 

“The loss of regular childcare related to Covid-19 has been a major shock to many families,” said Dr. Matthew M. Davis, interim chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. 

“In almost half of all cases where parents said that their own mental health had worsened and that their children’s behavior had worsened during the pandemic, they had lost their usual childcare arrangements. We need to be aware of these types of stressors for families, which extend far beyond Covid-19 as an infection or an illness.”

The impact of life during a pandemic on the mental health of children is still being assessed. In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics in April, researchers in China’s Hubei Province examined a sample group of 2,330 schoolchildren for signs of emotional distress. Children who responded to the survey had been in lockdown for an average of 33.7 days, much shorter than the span most U.S. children have been at home, yet 22.6% of them reported depressive symptoms and 18.9% were suffering anxiety. Hubei’s capital city is Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus emerged in late 2019.

Food insecurity is also on the rise. In April, nearly 41% of mothers with children younger than 13 reported recent food insecurity, according to an analysis from the Brookings Institution. According to Feeding America, more than 54 million people in the United States are facing hunger during the pandemic: more than at the peak of the Great Recession, and staggering closer to the Great Depression, when historians estimate 60 million Americans went hungry.

“Covid-19 and measures to control its spread have had a substantial effect on the nation’s children,” said Dr. Stephen Patrick, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy and a neonatologist at Children’s Hospital in Nashville. 

“Today an increasing number of the nation’s children are going hungry, losing insurance, employer-sponsored insurance and their regular childcare. The situation is urgent and requires immediate attention from federal and state policymakers.”

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