The COVID-19 pandemic poses real challenges to the aim of closing equity and achievement gaps and ensuring continuous improvement of the health, development, and well-being of all children. Approaching COVID-19 through a life course lens reminds us that there will be both short- and long-term effects, and that interactions between changed individual health attributes and changed family and environmental circumstances will continue to reverberate over time (Settersten et al. 2020). The LCHD model (Halfon 2014) reminds us that health is a developmental process, which is particularly sensitive to both positive and negative exposures and experience during sensitive periods of health development.
The Life Course Intervention Research Network (LCIRN) facilitated a series of 4 meetings in 2020 with maternal and child health researchers and other stakeholders to develop a research agenda to better understand the short- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s healthy development.
The results of this effort have recently been published in a summary article in the Maternal and Child Health Journal and a full report is available for download below. Participants identified key research questions at the individual, family, community, schools, and systems levels, focused especially on the less-studied secondary impacts of the pandemic including children’s development and mental health.
Just as important as what we research, is how we do the research. Recommendations for enacting the COVID-19 MCH Research Agenda include using participatory research methods, seeking out transformative approaches, activating new funding streams, and strengthening data systems that might better measure child well-being across multiple domains. One conclusion from this highly interactive and iterative process, is that researchers, policy makers, health systems, funders, and research institutions all have a role to play in transforming the research landscape to better serve children and families.
The pandemic of 2019-2020 might ultimately be remembered not just for its serious health impacts and social disruptions but as the catalyst for change. The research agenda points to a need for new approaches to research and practice that can promote health equity, re-fashioning systems of care to support optimal health development trajectories in early life and throughout the life course. Creative uses of new technology, and a willingness to work together in new ways to enact this research agenda, hold promise for novel solutions to both the threats posed by COVID-19 and to long-standing challenges to the well-being for all children.
Click below to download a PDF of the full report, which includes further details about the process, detailed research questions for each ecosystem level, and discussion of the recommended approaches.