Telethon Kids lead Australian first study examining impact of COVID-19 on family wellbeing
Researchers from the West Australian based Telethon Kids Institute are investigating the effects of COVID-19 on the wellbeing of more than 2,000 families living in the northern suburbs of Perth, measuring their perceived stress, financial hardship and family functioning during the pandemic.
The findings of their research are bound to be of interest to the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, given the importance of a family in the life of a child, and also because of the impact stressful family situations can have on children.
The ORIGINS Community Wellbeing during COVID-19 Project, the first of its kind in Australia, will provide a snapshot and longitudinal assessment of the northern Perth community’s response to the pandemic, seeking to discover how families are coping during this time, recording their experiences.
Professor Desiree Silva, one of the lead researchers on the study, noted the variety of stressors being experienced by families all around the country as a result of forced isolation measures. Financial pressures chief amongst them, families are also likely struggling with being confined together at home, she said, noting that the stress of this time “can temporarily, or even permanently, alter family dynamics.”
“We understand that many families will experience higher levels of stress during this time,” Professor Silva said. “Currently, we don’t have any evidence-based information from community members on how this pandemic is impacting them, in terms of the level and type of emotional distress, financial hardship and family functioning, currently and over the coming months.”
While there are many researchers who are undertaking deeper examinations of various facets of this unprecedented global change, many are focused on developing or testing a vaccine for the virus, or on finding effective treatments for those who have been diagnosed. Few studies are looking at how a whole community is affected (not just those diagnosed with COVID-19) in terms of their financial situation, family functioning and emotional wellbeing.
The work of exploring family dynamics and coping mechanisms has been incorporated into the existing ORIGINS Project, a $26 million research collaboration between Telethon Kids and the Joondalup Health Campus. This unique long-term project is following the progress of pregnant women, their partners and babies for the first five years of the baby’s life. It is one of the most comprehensive studies of pregnant women and their families in Australia to date.
There are 3,000 families in the existing ORIGINS project, and 2,000 active participants who are eligible to be involved in the COVID research, putting the ORIGINS team in a unique position to collect information on the wellbeing of a community during this pandemic, Professor Silva said.
“We see this as an opportunity to be involved in cutting-edge research that will contribute to a better understanding of the impact of this pandemic on a broad range of families in the Wanneroo and Joondalup community” she added.
Participants will be asked to complete a short questionnaire monthly during the pandemic. They will be asked about their personal situation and experience, including their ‘top three concerns’, and also whether any positives are emerging from their experience. Telehealth interviews with a subset of participants will also be conducted. Following the easing of restrictions, the questionnaires will be sent every six months until the ORIGINS child participant reaches five years of age.
Professor Silva anticipates that the information generated will be valuable in planning for future pandemics.
To learn more about the research, please see here.