Halifax, NS – June 2020 – Mount Saint Vincent University researchers Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac and Dr. Joan Turner (pictured above) are the recipients of a new grant from the COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The Federal government today shared the list of recipient projects from across the country. Research Nova Scotia partnered with CIHR to support regional COVID-19 researchers.

Valued at $80,000 and awarded based on a competitive process, the grant will support phase two of the team’s study on the effects of the pandemic on families with young children (eight years of age and under). Titled “Transitions to a new normal: The health of young children in the Maritimes during COVID-19,” this particular initiative will seek a deeper understanding of adjustments to family life over time.

“The need to study family life during this changing time is critical to provide well-timed, relevant information on the resources needed to support early childhood development and health and mitigate the potential impacts now and into the future,” said Dr. Joan Turner, Professor in Child & Youth Study at MSVU and co-lead of the study with Primary Investigator and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Early Childhood: Diversity and Transitions Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac.

“Policy interventions targeting the needs of young families are necessary to ensure success of public health measures to prevent and manage the impacts of COVID-19. Ongoing engagement with decision makers will advance the dissemination of the results and development of resources and supports for families with young children,” said Dr. Turner.

Study background

The efforts of parents/caregivers are essential to control the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure supportive environments for young children’s health. The states of emergency established in the Maritime provinces from COVID-19 have led to closures to many services for families with young children, the enforcement of physical distancing principles and abrupt changes to employment conditions and income – therefore, shifting the balance of responsibility 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 2200 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 been spending their time, impacts on routines, emotional challenges, access to food and outdoor spaces, loss of services for children, and changes to employment for parents. 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.

Preliminary results – phase one

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

Balancing work and family
76% reported working/studying while also balancing parenting responsibilities
63% strongly agree that balancing work/study and parenting has been challenging
Parents reported strategies use to help balance work/study and parenting, including encouraging free play for children (88%), structured academic activities (51%), and alternating time with child with another adult in the house (65%)

Changes since COVID-19 reflect daily life, family and meals
Most parents reported a moderate to extreme change in family life (86%) and many experienced a loss of service for their child (71%, e.g., snacks and meals provided by child care, Pre-primary or school as well as health/developmental services).

Many parents reported playing together (70%), cooking together more (51%) but that their child has been spending more time using screens (75%). Although most parents agreed that their child has been generally happy at home (91%), parents reported that they have less time to take care of themselves (68%) and were less rested (63%).

Next steps – phase two

The second phase of this research will build on these initial results and include a follow-up survey and opportunity for families to participate in telephone interviews. More information about ways to take part in this second phase will be shared through social media (visit the ECCRC Twitter account).

This research is an initiative of the Early Childhood Collaborative Research Centre at MSVU which is led by Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac. The Early Childhood Collaborative Research Centre (ECCRC) engages families, as well as partners in policy and practice, in research and evaluation to enhance early childhood well-being. The goal of the ECCRC is to ensure policy and practice are in place to support families across different early learning environments.

About Mount Saint Vincent University

As a leader in online and experiential learning, and based on a strong tradition of social responsibility, Mount Saint Vincent University takes a personalized approach to education to nurture socially responsible global citizens. Founded in 1873, the Mount has been nationally recognized for having one of the lowest student-to-professor ratios, for providing students early access to valuable research opportunities, for its legacy in the advancement of women, and for facilitating critical advancements in food security, healthy aging, literacy, and childhood development.


Media contact:

Gillian Batten
Director, Communications
Mount Saint Vincent University