In addition to the direct physical effects of COVID-19 infection, children and families potentially face acute and long-term threats to their health and well-being from the larger systemic and social disruptions resulting from society’s response to the pandemic. The secondary effects may not be easily measurable, but have the potential to run deep, with latent effects that may cause significant harm over the lifespan.
Between July and September 2020, The Life Course Intervention Research Network (LCIRN) facilitated a series of four virtual meetings with 46 stakeholders from ten Maternal and Child Health Research Networks, covering a broad range of disciplines across academia, clinical practice, nonprofit organizations, and family advocacy groups.
Using a life course health development (LCHD) framing, in which health is regarded as a dynamic process that develops over time, being influenced by a wide range of genetic, epigenetic, biological, psychological and social factors, operating at individual, family, community and global levels, the group focused on those aspects of the pandemic and our response to it that would have the greatest potential to impact the development of children’s well-being over the long-term.
The group explored threats and challenges to children’s well-being, such as school closures and reduced socialization with peers, as well as the opportunities and supports that had emerged during the pandemic response such as the widespread use of telehealth to support both physical and emotional well-being. Identified research priorities included the impacts of the pandemic on children’s mental health and potential interventions to address them; factors impacting individual and community-level resilience; and routes to mitigating disparities in the negative effects of the pandemic on children and families of color.
The group recommended that all studies integrate an anti-racist research and intervention approach, engage youth and community members, adopt a strengths-based approach, and focus on health equity. The activation of new funding streams including supplemental funding of existing studies to enable addition of COVID-related questions, and the timely provision of mini-grants could be used to address this agenda. Taking what we learn from studying the response to the pandemic, and using this knowledge to create a new developmental ecosystem for children could be transformative, acting as the catalyst for improvement in the developmental health trajectories of U.S. children throughout their life course.
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