Parents under Lockdown: the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Families

Elisabetta Biffi, “Riccardo Massa” Department of Human Sciences for Education — University of Milano-Bicocca

Maria Benedetta Gambacorti-Passerini, “Riccardo Massa” De-partment of Human Sciences for Education — University of Milano-Bicocca

Daniela Bianchi, “Riccardo Massa” Department of Human Sciences for Education — University of Milano-Bicocca.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic (WHO, 2020). In order to protect the health of the world’s population, many countries implemented measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, including school closures, home isolation and community lockdown, all of which have secondary impacts on children and their families (Dulieu, Burgess, 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped at national borders. It has affected people regardless of their nationality, level of education, income, or gender. However, the same may not be said for its indirect consequences, which have hit the most vulnerable hardest (Schleicher, 2020).

The restrictive measures required by the pandemic have exacerbated and accelerated existing social inequalities within and between countries, with job losses pushing many families further into poverty and school closures creating a wider educational divide, and impact-ing children’s life opportunities, and their physical and mental health (Eurochild, 2020). Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, families had been described as undergoing «a global childcare crisis» (Samman et al., 2016, passim). The advent of the public health emergency has made childcare an even greater challenge for parents globally, both in the short and longer term. In the current lockdown scenario, the measures adopted have often included the closure of childcare centers and schools.

They have often also entailed restrictions on other childcare options: for example, grandparents may no longer be available to care for their grandchildren. This combination of closures of childcare services and restrictions leaves working parents in a difficult situation. In this context, the well-being and mental health of parents them-selves as caregivers are critical. Research on the COVID-19 emergency is still new, but early reports indicate that one in four home-isolated parents display mental ill-health symptoms compared with one in 20 non-isolated parents (Brooks et al., 2020).

Families’ everyday lives have been seriously affected, and the spaces and times underpinning the daily routines of parents and children have undergone radical changes. Furthermore, greater responsibility for children’s education has fallen on the shoulders of families since the introduction of distance education methods (Bucholz et al., 2020), and this has given rise to new tensions and challenges. In such a scenario, the caregivers’ own well-being and mental health are critical factors (Brooks, 2020). Without adequate support, parents can become stressed, exhausted, and forced to make sacrifices in relation to their social life, education and employment.

This creates an extremely challenging situation for parents and potentially a highly vulnerable one for children (Gromada, Richardson, Rees, 2020). While the long-term implications of the COVID-19 crisis for the mental health of either children or adults are yet unknown, there is reason to believe they may be substantial, including the potential longer-term effects of delayed implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2015).


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