Assessing the impact of the COVID‑19 Pandemic on the psychosocial functioning of children with disabilities

Macoun, Sarah J. | $24,935

British Columbia University of Victoria 2021 SSHRC

The COVID‑19 pandemic has negatively and disproportionately impacted children with disabilities and their families (Charlesworth, 2020). Evidence suggests that COVID-related impacts on child outcomes are mediated through parent isolation and stress, and that these impacts may vary across different groups/communities (Ehrler et al., 2021; Johnson et al., 2021). COVID‑19 related social isolation due to physical distancing measures, closure of schools/child care services, financial stresses, and changes to social circles have disrupted the mental health and well-being of families and contributed to social inequities, especially for families who have a child with a disability (Gassman-Pines, Ananat, & Fitz-Henley, 2020). Within the context of the ongoing pandemic, we pose the following research questions: 1.What is the impact of parent isolation/stress on psychological health, functional abilities, and health-related quality of life for children with disabilities? 2. How variable are the experiences of parent isolation/stress across three different disability groups: neuromuscular (NMD), neurodevelopmental (NDD), and psychological disabilities (PD)? 3. How does parent isolation/stress mediate/moderate psychosocial outcomes for children across these three different disability groups? 4. How do culture and socioeconomic status (SES)/poverty moderate the relationship between parent isolation, stress, and psychosocial functioning in children with disabilities?

The proposed research builds on a successful existing partnership between the University of Victoria (UVic) and The Centre for Child Development (The Centre). For several years we have collaborated on researching a novel intervention for children with NDDs. Between 2020 and 2021, UVic (Macoun) and The Centre (Katz) partnered on a Mitacs and Kids Brain Health Network (KBHN) funded pilot study investigating the impact of COVID‑19 on children with NDDs and their families.The present study will build on this existing collaboration and partnership by extending the results of our 2020/21 pilot study and adding two highly skilled, expert collaborators (i.e., Grant & Milford). Grant investigates the role of stress on children/youth (i.e., Grant, et al., 2003; Grant et al., 2014) and brings this experience to the present study. Milford brings expertise regarding research design and statistical analysis/interpretation.

Research on the impact of COVID‑19 on parent isolation, stress and their impact on child outcomes is needed to determine who is most impacted, in what ways, and the best ways to mitigate these impacts. The Centre is committed to providing its clients with leading edge, evidenced-based interventions and the current proposal will help to advance the knowledge of their staff to improve outcomes for the families served. Results from the present study will inform the practice of Centre clinicians (i.e., physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, social workers) and may inform Centre policies around service allocation. The COVID‑19 pandemic has drastically changed the service delivery landscape and there is a need at The Centre and in the broader service delivery sector to understand its impact to inform decision-making. The mixed-methods design of the proposed research will allow us to collect quantitative and qualitative data to better understand how pandemic-induced stress has impacted families and whether there are differential effects across different diagnostic categories. Our results will provide actionable data which The Centre can use to improve its service delivery to clients. We will ensure that the results are available to academic, policymaking, and community to inform service allocation/delivery across communities.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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