McMaster University launches follow-up Ontario Parent Survey after 14 months of the pandemic

One year later, researchers want to know how parents have coped with COVID

HAMILTON, ON — Researchers from McMaster University and Offord Centre for Child Studies have launched a follow-up province-wide survey to measure and understand how families with children are still coping with COVID-19. The new Ontario Parent Survey will launch Monday May 3, one year to the day of the first survey’s launch.

“The follow-up survey is being conducted because we had such an amazing response from caregivers across the province,” says lead researcher Andrea Gonzalez, Associate Professor and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Family Health and Preventive Interventions. “The findings were shared widely with many partners, including local public health units and Public Health Ontario, community and mental health agencies, Early Years Centres, school boards and other community agencies, which helped inform some service and program allocation.”

The results of the 2020 survey were quite concerning, and provided a snapshot of the situation experienced by parents and caregivers after only three months of COVID and the initial public health measures. The most significant and troubling findings found almost 57 per cent of caregivers/parents reported high levels of depressive symptoms, and 40 per cent of caregivers/parents reported deterioration in their children’s behaviour or mood. Parents had also reported high levels of conflict with their partner since the lockdown began, and just over one-third reported some loss of income.

The 2020 study findings were summarized under five themes: 1) caregiver mental health; 2) children’s mental health; 3) impact on family relations; 4) impact on financial needs; and 5) positive experiences. The new survey will continue these themes.

“We would now like to see how families are faring a year into the COVID pandemic and how the rollercoaster ride of public health measures and school openings and closures are having an impact on children and parents/caregivers,” says Gonzalez. “We also want to know what parents and families may need moving forward as we slowly begin to emerge from the pandemic and plan for the future.”

The research showed the stressors affecting families and households mostly are related to work/life balance – parenting and childcare, assisting children with their schoolwork at home, and working more hours, many from home. Parents said they were concerned by the inability to visit family or get support from extended family members. And they also reported a serious distress about working on the frontlines or returning to work and exposing their family to the virus.

“The 2020 survey was conducted after only three months of COVID lockdown,” says Gonzalez.” It’s now been 14 months since the COVID pandemic started. Ontario is in crisis state with a third wave of COVID and infection rates increasing. We’ve seen school closings, last minute remote learning, restrictions on some businesses but not others, and lockdowns and confusion that have made life for parents/caregivers and students very challenging.”

Both study’s general themes focus on the well-being and health of children and parents/caregivers, family stressors, family relations, and how COVID has had an impact on individuals and families. “This follow-up study will help inform community practice on how to assist families through these very challenging times, now and in the future,” says Gonzalez. “Given the findings of this survey may be used to inform service provision and the development of family resources, it is important to hear from families that reflect the diverse range of races, ethnicities, socioeconomic status, and family structures of which the province is composed.”

Starting Monday, May 3 and for six weeks, parents and caregivers can participate in the survey by going to www.OntarioParentSurvey.ca The Offord Centre for Child Studies is a multi-disciplinary research institute established in 1992.

Through collaboration across fields such as child psychiatry, psychology, epidemiology, pediatrics, policy development, social work, and nursing, the Centre’s aim is to better understand children’s mental health problems with the overall goal of improving the lives of children and youth.