Research explores how to measure Covid’s impact on children

Rebecca Shearer, an associate professor of psychology at the University, is one of 12 writers who contributed to an academic paper that offers a method by which researchers, government entities, academics, and others can study the effect of the pandemic on children by using existing data.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that more than 140,000 children have experienced the loss of a parent or caretaker since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Even if children are less susceptible to contracting the coronavirus, they have not been spared the backlash. And those living near or below the poverty line have been impacted the most.  

But how can the developmental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on young children be measured?

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 offers a pathway.

Rebecca Shearer, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, is one of 12 writers who contributed to the paper. It offers a method by which researchers, government entities, academics, and others can study the impact of the pandemic on children by using existing data.

“Despite all the risks and impacts on children because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are assets within communities that can support early development, health, and well-being,” said Shearer.

The article explores what data sources, methods, and expertise can help to understand the impact of the pandemic on babies and young children. It also urges researchers and others to use an integrated data system, or IDS, which can then provide information on children and their parents or caretakers.

“The paper summarized the importance of using integrated data systems to study effects of COVID-19 on young children in collaboration with public agencies serving children,” said Shearer. “This is administrative data that is routinely gathered by different agencies and can be used to examine policy-relevant questions about children.”

The research lists five areas where services can provide resilient pathways for children. These include early learning, safe and nurturing families, health, housing, and financial/employment. Access to these services and an improvement of conditions will determine outcomes in children’s well-being after the impact of the pandemic, according to Shearer.

Also outlined in the report are administrative data sets that are commonly collected by state agencies and other institutions that could be integrated at the individual level and include relevant linkage between children and families to facilitate research.

For instance, in order to determine cases of abuse and neglect, researchers can gather data from Human Services Agencies that track those cases. The individual school districts can also provide attendance records of children as well as behavioral and developmental assessments and whether those children received additional support such as special education classes.

To determine whether a family or child has suffered from food insecurity and needs social-emotional support, records from local human services agencies can be helpful, Shearer pointed out.

The paper also urges researchers and others to ask questions that can enhance the quality of their data. For instance, one question may be: “How has parental employment/unemployment affected children’s behavioral and emotional health?” Researchers can gather data from school attendance, child welfare records, and employment dates and duration to answer this question.

Ultimately, the use of IDS information should help local, state, and federal governments make decisions on policy and the allocation of funds for future health crisis, Shearer noted.

The University has also received three grants from the Spencer Foundation, The Children’s Trust, and the Robert W. Wood Foundation to bolster the local IDS programs, said Shearer. These grants will allow for strengthening of research-practice collaborations between the University of Miami, University of Florida, and the major early learning programs administering or funding services to children and families from birth to age 8 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 utilize the Miami-Dade IDEAS Consortium for Children that 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 childcare.

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