Halifax, NS – March 15, 2021 – Mount Saint Vincent University researchers Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac and Dr. Joan Turner, together with their team at the Early Childhood Collaborative Research Centre, are launching a second family survey this week focused on Atlantic Canadian families’ experiences almost one-year into the COVID-19 pandemic.

Titled “Family Changes during a global pandemic,” this initiative will seek a deeper understanding of adaptations to family life over time.

Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac

“We learned through our first survey that an early priority for families was balancing changes to work, income and family life. After the first wave, families were focused on the transition back to school and child care and made decisions about participation in extra-curricular activities and social activities,” said Dr. McIsaac. (Additional information on preliminary results can be found below.)

“Almost one year later, our lives continue to be shaped everyday by the changing reality of the pandemic. The purpose of the second survey is to understand how Atlantic Canadian families with young children are adjusting to evolving changes in family life, in particular with the recent rise of cases. Following the launch of our first survey, the Atlantic bubble was formed, which presented the opportunity to expand our study population to include all four provinces to explore more regional variations in experiences.”

The ultimate goal is to inform current and future supports for families with young children. The results of this research will be shared with policy makers and program designers in family-focused centres and government.

Dr. Joan Turner

Noted Dr. Turner, “We’re interested in how initial adjustments made in response to the pandemic measures have (or have not) resulted in lasting change or adaptations almost one year later. The efforts of parents/caregivers are essential to help control the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure supportive environments for young children’s health. The states of emergency established in the Atlantic provinces from COVID-19 shifted the balance of responsibilities on families.”

The survey can be completed by parents/guardians here: tinyurl.com/FamilyCOVIDSurvey. All Atlantic Canadian families with children aged 8 years and under are encouraged to share their pandemic experiences by completing the survey. The more families the researchers hear from, the better. Previous participation in this study is not required.

Dr. Jessie-Lee McIssac and Dr. Joan Turner received a Canadian Institutes of Heath Research (CIHR) grant valued at $80,000 and awarded based on a competitive process that will support this second phase of the study.

Study background

The efforts of parents/caregivers are essential to help control the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure supportive environments for young children’s health. The states of emergency established in the Atlantic provinces from COVID-19 shifted the balance of responsibilities on families. The level of risk associated with disruption to family life impacting children’s health and development is unknown as families manage unpredictable challenges while following government health directives.

During phase one of this research (between April and May), more than 2,200 families with young children (aged 8 years and under) from around the Maritime provinces responded to an online survey about their early pandemic experiences. The survey explored how young children have spent their time, impacts on routines, emotional challenges, access to food and outdoor spaces, loss of services for children, and changes to parents’ employment. The survey also looked at how families were coping with their new reality and the unanticipated impacts on family life, such as having more time at home together.

In July and November, 30 families (10 from each Maritime province) participated in telephone interviews. The first set of interviews was built on the results of the first survey and focused on how families had been adjusting to life during the pandemic once restrictions had started to lift, as well as on their initial experiences during the beginning of the pandemic. The second set of interviews was focused on how families had been adapting to life during the pandemic after restrictions had been loosened for a few months and as parents had to make decisions about what activities children engaged in, such as school, child care, sports/hobbies and other recreational activities. In late winter, a third set of interviews will be conducte with those same 30 families to capture family adaptations at that time.

Preliminary results – Phase 1

Researchers have begun to examine the data gathered and have noted the following initial findings:

Balancing work and family life was a prominent topic in the first survey (April 2020) with 76% of participants reported working/studying while also balancing parenting responsibilities. Most parents reported a moderate to extreme change in family life (86%) and many experienced a loss of service for their child (71%).

As the realities of the pandemic evolved, Drs. McIsaac, Turner and their team continued to explore experiences with 30 families through two interviews. During the first set of interviews (July 2020), participant’s emotions and mental health were common topics discussed. Most participants experienced a change in job status in some way due to the pandemic. Similar to the first survey, many mentioned the difficulty of working from home while caring for their children with the loss of child care. Parents were tired, had little time to themselves, were working hard to establish a new routine. At the same time, participants said that there was more time for play and/or for family time. Some participants mentioned doing at-home learning activities, but otherwise organized their own activities for learning like baking or exploring outdoors.

During the second set of interviews (November 2020), participants seemed to be happy with the transition to school and child care, and children seemed to be fine with their return, having the new COVID guidelines and restrictions in place. Some families reported a slight difficulty in interpreting and receiving information regarding experiencing minor illnesses or COVID symptoms and their attendance at school/child care. Some families chose not to enroll their children in any extracurricular activities, and others did, however all families seemed to put a lot of thought into their decision, to determine what was the best and safest decision for their children and families. Preliminary findings from the interviews can also be found visually through this infographic.