The daily disruptions aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19 are having a “substantial negative impact” on the physical and mental well-being of parents and their children across the country, according to a new national survey.

“The impact of abrupt, systemic changes to employment and strain from having access to a limited social network is disrupting the core of families across the country,” said researchers from Vanderbilt University’s Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital in Nashville and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Families are particularly affected by stressors stemming from changes in work, school, and daycare schedules that are impacting finances and access to community support networks, according to the new national survey published in in the journal Pediatrics.

The survey of parents across the United States ran from June 5 to June 10, 2020. Findings include:

  • 27 percent of parents reported worsening mental health for themselves;
  • 14 percent reported worsening behavioral health for their children;
  • 24  percent parents reported a loss of regular child care.

Worsening physical and mental health were similar no matter the person’s race, ethnicity, income, education status, or location, according to the researchers at the two hospitals.

However, larger declines in mental well-being were reported by women and unmarried parents, they noted.

“COVID-19 and measures to control its spread have had a substantial effect on the nation’s children,” said Stephen Patrick, M.D., MPH, 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 employer-sponsored insurance, and their regular child care. The situation is urgent and requires immediate attention from federal and state policymakers.”

The researchers surveyed parents with children under age 18 to measure changes in their health, insurance status, food security, use of public food assistance resources, child care, and use of health care services since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Since March 2020, more families are reporting food insecurity, and more reliance on food banks, and delaying children’s visits to health care providers, the survey discovered.

For instance, the proportion of families with moderate or severe food insecurity increased from 6 percent to 8 percent from March to June.

Children covered by parents’ employer-sponsored insurance coverage decreased from 63 percent to 60 percent.

Strikingly, families with young children report worse mental health than those with older children, pointing to the central role that child care arrangements play in the day-to-day functioning of the family, according to the researchers.

“The loss of regular child care related to COVID-19 has been a major shock to many families,” said Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., interim chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and senior vice-president and chief of Community Health Transformation at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

“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 child care arrangements,” he said. “We need to be aware of these types of stressors for families, which extend far beyond COVID-19 as an infection or an illness.”

Source: Vanderbilt University Medical Center