Surviving or thriving?: Exploring how children & caregivers in Ontario cultivate resilience in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic

Orchard, Treena | $26,972

Ontario Western University (The University of Western Ontario) 2021 SSHRC

PROBLEM: The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted all social routines and systems essential to human life, including education and families (41). Two especially affected populations are school-age children who face precarious learning environments and their caregivers, who support their children’s education while juggling other social and occupational roles (2). In the face of the uncertainty stemming from the pandemic, the provincial government is recommending resilience as a winning strategy (42). Local government discourse flags resilience as an endemic resource people must use to beat the pandemic, which shifts responsibility for the broader social good from the state to the individual without attending to the structural factors and systems that are perpetuating adversity (9,10). To date, no studies have examined how resilience is cultivated among school-aged children and their caregivers in Ontario during the COVID‑19 pandemic. There is also a paucity of scholarly critiques of the government’s use of the term resilience in their governance strategies. We know very little about how resilience is being employed or developed by school-aged children and their caregivers during COVID-19. This pressing research gap has direct implications for the well-being of over two million school-aged children in the province, most of whom have at least one caregiver.

OBJECTIVE: The study objective is to develop an in-depth, comprehensive understanding of resilience among school-aged children and their caregivers in the context of COVID‑19 in Ontario. The project researchers employ critical social science theory and have scholarly expertise in the areas of childhood and resilience. We will recruit 40 child-caregiver dyads consisting of children doing online (20 dyads) and in-person (20 dyads) learning to complete an online survey and zoom-based semi-structured interview. The caregiver survey will consist of previously validated tools that explore internal and external factors related to resilience and the child survey will include one child resilience scale (2835). The zoom-based interviews, conducted separately with caregivers and children, will explore participants’ lived experiences during the pandemic and issues like inner strength, family dynamics, and the conditions that support/undermine resilience. Thorne’s qualitative interpretive description, along with other interdisciplinary leaders in the resilience and health fields, will be used to interpret thematic findings across data sources (23,39) to develop a nuanced understanding of resilience during COVID-19.

SIGNIFICANCE: Our goal is to develop a contextualized understanding of resilience among school-aged children and their caregivers in Ontario within the context of COVID-19. This study is important because these experiences are not well understood nor are they being adequately managed by existing government protocols. We will disseminate study findings through various platforms to ensure multiple stakeholders can access the data, including the public, policy makers, service providers, and educators. Using online survey and interviews with school-aged children is a novel approach and will yield rich empirical and methodological results. The theoretical insights into population-specific notions of resilience during the pandemic are additional, and exciting, anticipated project outcomes. Our critique of the provincial government’s use of resilience discourse in pandemic policies may help reshape these discourses and help introduce better governance strategies. The COVID‑19 pandemic is far from over and the team hopes that our evidence-based data and attendant dissemination activities can help children and caregivers to thrive, not just survive, during the pandemic.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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