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The Pandemic’s Impact on the Social-Emotional Well-Being of our Youngest Generation

BPC’s most recent parent survey aimed to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on our children’s social-emotional and behavioral health, an important foundation for cognitive skill development and a predictor of later educational and professional outcomes.

Overall, parents in our survey reported:

  • Negative changes in their children’s daily routines and
  • A high interest in acquiring support to address their child’s social and emotional health.

As we recover from the pandemic, it’s important that policymakers, child care providers, and families keep these issues top of mind as future investments are made to best support children’s development.

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Overall Shifts in Children’s Social-Emotional and Behavioral Development

Parents reported that the pandemic had a negative impact on their children’s routines and behaviors.

  • One-quarter of parents reported that their children’s daily eating habits (24%), ability to follow rules (24%), and amount of sleep nightly (23%) changed negatively over the past month.

Differences in Parents’ Reports of their Children’s Social-Emotional and Behavioral Health

When exploring these behavioral impacts by geographical area, we found parents in urban areas were more likely to report negative health changes than parents from suburban or rural areas.

  • Urban parents’ reports of negative changes in daily eating habits (33%) and communication skills (21%) were about double that of parents in rural areas (16% and 10%, respectively).

Interestingly, parents with higher income levels were more likely to report certain negative developmental changes like changes in amounts of sleep, attention span, and communication skills.

The survey results also highlighted differences between families needing care during traditional hours versus those needing care during non-traditional hours.

  • Parents needing care during non-traditional hours were more likely to report that their children’s overall development had changed negatively across all eight indicators. More notably, 1 in 3 parents needing care during non-traditional hours reported negative changes in their children’s eating habits, amounts of sleep, and ability to follow rules.

Moreover, geographical differences were also present in parents’ reports of their child’s overall suspension or expulsion incidences from child care because of behavioral or disciplinary issues.

  • Urban parents (14%) were more likely than suburban (3%) or rural parents (8%) to say that their child had been suspended or expelled from child care.

Social-Emotional and Behavioral Health Consultation

The parent survey responses also revealed that the majority of parents would be interested in a social and emotional health consultation if it was made available to them by their primary child care arrangement. Social and emotional health consultations have been shown to improve parent-child relationships, reduce and avert mental health problems, and promote children’s social and emotional competencies by guiding and supporting parents in raising healthy children.

  • Overall, three quarters of parents (76%) reported being interested in a social and emotional health consultation, with 38% of parents reporting they are very interested and 38% of parents reporting they are somewhat interested.
  • Parents with a higher educational and income level were more likely to express strong interest in a social and emotional health consultation.
  • Urban parents (57%) were twice as likely to report strong interest in this type of consultation compared to suburban (29%) and rural (24%) parents.
  • Parents with Hispanic children (48%) were most likely to report being interested in a consultation, followed by parents with Black children (41%).

Conclusion

By identifying which groups of children are experiencing the most negative changes, mental health practitioners and child care professionals can inform their practices to better support children and families as we begin to understand the long-term impacts of the pandemic. State child care administrators can use American Rescue Plan funds to develop and support early childhood mental health consultation models that can serve parents not only in the coming months but long into the future.

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