A new study shows how broadly the COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruptions for working parents who have had trouble finding childcare, especially parents of children with special health care needs. Third-year UNC School of Medicine student Caleb Easterly led the analysis of data collected before and during the pandemic.
CHAPEL HILL, NC – A study published in JAMA Pediatrics shows how often childcare insecurity occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect it had on parental job loss. Employment disruptions due to childcare insecurity existed before the pandemic began, especially for parents of children with special medical needs. But lockdowns and other measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have caused an increase in the number of parents struggling to find adequate childcare to keep jobs.
“I had heard about this issue anecdotally, but wanted to quantify the impact of the pandemic on parents and children by comparing data taken before and during 2020,” said first author Caleb Easterly, a UNC MD-PhD program student .
The study sample consisted of nearly 50,000 children from newborn to five years of age in the 2016–2020 waves of the National Survey of Children’s Health, a nationally representative United States-based survey. The 2020 wave was fielded from July 2020 to January 2021.
“We saw that nearly a quarter of parents raising children with special health care needs had child care-related employment disruptions in 2020,” Easterly said.
There was a 30-40 percent increase in employment disruption due to childcare problems among all parents, regardless of their child’s health needs. The overall increase speaks to the broad impact the pandemic is having on all types of families. However, low-income families, children of color, and children with special health care needs were more affected.
The effects of a parent losing a job or reducing hours at work can be felt by an entire family. The stress a parent feels to meet basic needs with reduced or lost income affects their mental health, along with the mental health of their children. Additionally, health insurance is still commonly tied to employment, so when a job is lost, so is health insurance.
“Children are directly affected by health insurance discontinuities, which lead to changes in which doctors or clinics are covered on new or temporary insurance policies,” said senior author Neal deJong, MD, MPH, assistant professor of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the UNC School of Medicine. “It can also lead to missed appointments and missed health care opportunities. Things that should be addressed in a visit to their doctor go untreated and end up in a visit to the ER.”
Researchers say the impact of these disruptions in employment and health care must continue to be studied as the physical and mental toll can have lasting effects. They also suggest the creation of broader systems of care and support for parents and families experiencing these problems.
Contact: Mark Derewicz