The purpose of this study is to understand how families from diverse sociodemographic backgrounds perceived the impact of the pandemic on the development of their children.
We used a multimethod approach guided by Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory, which identifies 5 developmental systems (micro, meso, exo, macro, and chrono). Semistructured interviews were conducted in English or Spanish with parents living in 5 geographic regions of the United States between July and September 2021. Participants also completed the COVID-19 Exposure and Family Impact Survey.
Forty-eight families participated, half of whose preferred language was Spanish, with a total of 99 children ages newborn to 19 years. Most qualitative themes pertained to developmental effects of the microsystem and macrosystem. Although many families described negative effects of the pandemic on development, others described positive or no perceived effects. Some families reported inadequate government support in response to the pandemic as causes of stress and potential negative influences on child development. As context for their infant’s development, families reported a variety of economic hardships on the COVID-19 Exposure and Family Impact Survey, such as having to move out of their homes and experiencing decreased income.
In addition to negative impacts, many parents perceived positive pandemic-attributed effects on their child’s development, mainly from increased time for parent-child interaction. Families described economic hardships that were exacerbated by the pandemic and that potentially affect child development and insufficient government responses to these hardships. These findings hold important lessons for leaders who wish to design innovative solutions that address inequities in maternal, family, and child health.