Mount Saint Vincent University researchers want to know how families with children between the ages of zero to eight have adapted as COVID-19 continues to create uncertainty. Photo: Alexander Dummer

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Atlantic Canadian families have faced many challenges over the last year, and researchers are hoping they’ll share how they’re adapting to change via a new survey.

Titled ‘Family Changes during a global pandemic,’ the survey is intended to give researchers an idea of how families have adapted as COVID-19 continues to create uncertainty.

Mount Saint Vincent University professors Jessie-Lee McIsaac, Joan Turner, and their team at the university’s Early Childhood Collaborative Research Centre launched the survey on Monday.

Aimed at parents and guardians living in Atlantic Canada with young children between the ages of zero and eight, it is a follow-up to their survey from last April.

That first survey (reported here) examined the strategies families were turning to as they worked from home. It looked at how they navigated challenges like creating routines and finding ways to allow their children to play despite lockdowns and restrictions.

More than 2,200 families from the Maritimes participated in that first survey. Preliminary data suggests balancing work and family life was top of mind for many families, with 76% of respondents stating they were working/studying while balancing parenting responsibilities.

Most (86%) reported a “moderate to extreme” change in family life, 75% said their kids’ screen time had increased, and 71% reported the loss of a health-related service for their child.

Mount Saint Vincent University professor Jessie-Lee McIsaac. Photo: MSVU

“We certainly knew when everything first hit that families were doing the best they could and they were bouncing a lot of different demands, work and family. And they certainly reported that to us,” McIsaac said in an interview.

“I think one of the things we were surprised about is that parents were reporting that the children were doing OK, but that they were the ones that they were feeling that they didn’t have as much time to take care of themselves and they were feeling less rested.”

In total, 63% of parents indicated they were feeling less rested during those early days of the pandemic.

In July and November, 30 families participated in telephone interviews expanding on the results of the first survey. In July, they were asked how things were changing as restrictions started lifting. In November, researchers asked those same families about adaptations to their lives and about their decision-making when it came to their children’s activities.

Preliminary results from those interviews are available via this infographic.

“It’s been really interesting to study this as it has evolved and as it continues to evolve. Every day it’s a different reality that we’re encountering,” McIsaac said.

Atlantic bubble study

While the first survey focused on Maritime families, the second survey launched this week has expanded to include Newfoundland and Labrador. McIsaac said the addition of Newfoundland and Labrador is important to helping better understand what is happening in this region of the country.

The purpose of this second survey is to understand how Atlantic Canadian families with young children are adjusting to the ongoing changes brought about by the pandemic.

“The second survey looks at questions about what families’ experiences have been with the changing restrictions, looking at the evolving situation and how families are responding to that,” she said.

“It’s also about the impacts of the choices and the decisions that families are making. What sort of things are they engaging in, who they’re interacting with, how they’re responding to the public health restrictions, because they are certainly still affecting our day to day life.”

McIsaac said researchers want to identify the supports families need now and in the future. The intention is to share the data with policy makers and program designers.

“We’re hearing so many of these changes will last,” she said.

“Some families told us that they appreciated the slowed down lifestyle that this has created for their family, and we are curious if that will continue as we move past this really significant moment in time.”

Participation in the first part of the study isn’t a requirement to participate, and researchers are hoping to hear from as many families as possible by the March 31 deadline.

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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