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Loss Of Child Care During COVID-19 Is Taking A Toll On Kids, New Study Finds

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While families are no stranger to stress, researchers have found the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is adding to the burden many families are already struggling to carry. Specifically, a nationwide survey found the loss of child care during the pandemic is taking a toll on children and as well as their parents.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago found in a study recently published in Pediatrics that "parents and children have been substantially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic."

"More than 1 in 4 parents reported worsening mental health and 1 in 7 parents reported worsening behavioral health for their children since the pandemic began," the study, which surveyed more than 1,000 parents of children under the age of 18, reads. "Worsening of parental mental health and children’s behavioral health were at times intertwined, with nearly 1 in 10 families reporting worsening of both."

The study found that for the 10% of parents who reported worsening mental and behavioral health, disruptions to child care were common. In fact, roughly 48% of families that reported experiencing a worsening of both mental among parents and behavioral health among children also reported having lost their regular child care during the coronavirus pandemic. Overall, 24% of all responding parents reported losing access to their regular form of child care.

"The loss of regular child care related to COVID-19 has been a major shock to many families," Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, one of the study's authors, told Science Daily. "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. We need to be aware of these types of stressors for families, which extend far beyond COVID-19 as an infection or an illness."

According to the study, 27% of parents reported experiencing worsening mental health between March and June while 14% reported observing worsening behavioral health in their children during that same period of time. Rates of worsening parental mental health were higher among female and unmarried parents while families with younger children were more likely to report mental or behavioral health problems than families with older children, the study noted.

What makes the issue particularly concerning is how the coronavirus pandemic is expected to exacerbate already serious access and inequality issues in child care. According to the Center for American Progress, nearly two-thirds of the nation's child care providers reported being unable to survive a closure lasting longer than one month at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. At the end of June, the Center for American Progress estimated that half of all licensed child care providers could be lost as a result of the pandemic if local, state, and federal governments don't intervene. But a loss of child care providers is likely to have a more profound impact on Black and Hispanic families, rural families, and low-and-middle income families, according to the Center for American Progress.

Researchers behind the study published Friday in Pediatrics have urged federal and state lawmakers to consider the unique needs of families when considering ways to mitigate the health and economic effects of coronavirus, including mental and behavioral health support and improved access to child care.

"COVID-19 and measures to control its spread have had a substantial effect on the nation's children," Stephen Patrick, MD, MPH, one of the study's authors and the director of the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy and a neonatologist at Children's Hospital in Nashville, told Science Daily. "Today an increasing number of the nation's children are going hungry, losing insurance employer-sponsored insurance and their regular child care. The situation is urgent and requires immediate attention from federal and state policymakers."

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.