Pandemic restrictions have highlighted the limits of children’s agency, researchers find

Pandemic restrictions have highlighted the limits of children’s agency, researchers find

by Freya Lucas

September 21, 2020

Social and community disruptions caused by COVID-19 restrictions could have a lasting impact on children’s wellbeing, South Australian researchers have warned, saying that while health, safety and education responses are the focus of restrictions, the needs of childhood independence, self-determination and play are less acknowledged. 


Lead author Jennifer Fane explained that the closure of playgrounds, restricted access to early childhood education and care (ECEC) facilities, and anxiety about mixing in public places such as shopping centres has likely had significant impacts on children during this time.


“As life starts to resume as it did pre-COVID-19, focus and attention to children’s opportunities for play – and their ability to exercise reasonable ‘agency’ during this time of significant transition – are two key aspects that can support their wellbeing during this difficult time.”


Globally, people of all ages have experienced restricted freedoms as a result of the  COVID-19 pandemic. For children, however, the pandemic has highlighted the limits of children’s sense of agency, something the authors said “has never been more apparent”.


“Young children interviewed in the study told us of the importance to their lives of trying new things and having a say about play,” co-author Colin MacDougall said


“As the world takes baby steps to ease these life-saving restrictions, and move into an uncertain future, we must take the time to think about very young children. This research can be used to help chart a course for the multiple transitions these children are undergoing.”


The research, conducted by Jennifer Fane, Colin MacDougall, Jessie Jovanovic, Gerry Redmond and Lisa Gibbs was published in Child Indicators Research, and may be accessed here.