A window on changes in early childhood development with COVID‑19 pandemic exposure before and after birth: the Ontario Birth Study
Stress early in life, even before birth, can have a long-term impact on the development of children. The COVID‑19 pandemic has been a major source of stress for families both from the disease itself as well as from measures taken to control it, such as lockdowns and school closures. As yet, we know little about the short and long-term impacts on young children and on children who were exposed during prenatal development. This information will be critical for clinicians who care for the children and their families and also for educators of young children. The Ontario Birth Study, with its child follow-up, provides a unique opportunity to assess changes in child development before, during, and, eventually, after the pandemic. We have recruited mothers in early pregnancy and followed them through the pregnancy and early postnatal period since 2013. Over 3000 mothers have participated so far and about 300 were pregnant during the pandemic period. Since 2018, we have followed up with the mothers and their children at 8, 24, 36, and 54 months with assessment of child development at 24 and 54 months. Over 1600 children have some follow-up and over 300 at 24 months and over 200 at 54 months have been assessed during the pandemic. We propose to compare general childhood development at 24 months and socioemotional development at 54 months in children before and during the pandemic. We will also compare how children are functioning during periods of lockdown and school closure compared to other times during the pandemic and before the pandemic. In addition, we will do an initial assessment of brain development in children at 8 and 24 months in children who were exposed to the pandemic before and/or just after birth using a new assessment approach. The information we gain will be shared with clinicians who work with children and with early childhood educators. This will help them better adapt their approaches, if needed, to account for the pandemic impact.