Research explores how to measure the impact of COVID-19 on children
Rebecca Shearer, associate professor of psychology at the University, is one of 12 writers who have contributed to an academic article that proposes a method by which researchers, government entities, academics and others can study the effect of the pandemic on children using data.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that more than 140,000 children have lost a parent or guardian since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though children are less likely to contract the coronavirus, they have not been spared the backlash. And those who live near or below the poverty line have been hit the hardest.
But how do you measure the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the development of young children?
A recent report, “Developmental Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Young Children: A Conceptual Model for Research with Integrated Administrative Data Systems,” published in the International Journal of Population Data Science suggests a path.
Rebecca Shearer, associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, is one of 12 writers who contributed to the article. It offers a method by which researchers, government entities, academics and others can study the impact of the pandemic on children using existing data.
“Despite all the risks and impacts on children due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are assets within communities that can support early development, health and well-being,” said Shearer.
The article explores data sources, methods and expertise that can help understand the impact of the pandemic on babies and young children. He also urges researchers and others to use an integrated data system, or IDS, which can then provide information about children and their parents or guardians.
“The paper summarized the importance of using integrated data systems to study the effects of COVID-19 on young children in collaboration with public agencies serving children,” Shearer said. “This is administrative data that is regularly collected by different agencies and can be used to examine issues relevant to policies affecting children. “
The research identifies five areas where services can provide resilient pathways for children. These include early learning, family safety and development, health, housing and finances and employment. Access to these services and improved conditions will determine the outcome of children’s well-being after the impact of the pandemic, according to Shearer.
The report also describes administrative datasets that are typically collected by state agencies and other institutions that could be integrated at the individual level and include relevant links between children and families to facilitate research.
For example, to determine cases of abuse and neglect, researchers can collect data from social service agencies that track these cases. Individual school districts may also provide children’s attendance records as well as behavioral and developmental assessments and whether those children have received additional support, such as special education classes.
To determine if a family or child has suffered food insecurity and is in need of socio-emotional support, records from local social service agencies can be helpful, Shearer pointed out.
The paper also urges researchers and others to ask questions that can improve the quality of their data. For example, a question might be: “How has parental employment / unemployment affected children’s behavioral and emotional health?” Researchers can collect data on school attendance, child protection records, and dates and duration of employment to answer this question.
Ultimately, using IDS information should help local, state, and federal governments make decisions about policy and allocation of funds for a future health crisis, Shearer noted.
The university has also received three grants from the Spencer Foundation, Children’s Trust and Robert W. Wood Foundation to strengthen local IDS programs, Shearer said. These grants will strengthen research-practice collaborations between the University of Miami, the University of Florida and major early learning programs administering or funding services to children and families from birth to age. 8-year-olds in the county, including The Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade / Monroe, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Head Start, and The Children’s Trust.
The collaboration will use the Miami-Dade IDEAS Consortium for Children which links administrative data across systems to identify promising practices that can lead to positive outcomes for children and to study equitable access to family strengthening supports, such as SNAP, TANF, affordable housing, and quality child care.