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Babies and toddlers from poorer backgrounds have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with less access to books and outdoor space during lockdown than children growing up in wealthier families, research has found.
The developmental impact of the coronavirus crisis on children aged 0-3 has been largely undocumented, but early findings from the new study suggest young children from disadvantaged backgrounds have missed out on activities during lockdown which play a vital part in child development.
The study, conducted by researchers at five UK universities and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, surveyed more than 500 parents of children under three about the sort of activities they enjoyed with their child before and during lockdown.
They were asked about time spent reading, playing and singing with their child, as well as cooking, art, exercise, gardening and spending time together outdoors.
While 90% of families reported enjoying increased activities with their young children during the spring lockdown, parents from disadvantaged backgrounds reported spending less time, in particular anything requiring outdoor space and access to books.
Parents were also asked about the amount of time their children spent on screens during lockdown. Three-quarters reported that their children spent more time than usual watching TV or on a tablet, but babies and toddlers from disadvantaged backgrounds were particularly likely to have high daily screen use.
The study, called “Not all babies are in the same boat: exploring how socioeconomic status, parental attitudes, and activities during UK Covid-19 lockdown affect early executive functions”, is currently under peer review.
It has already prompted concerns that the closure of playgrounds and libraries during lockdown has disproportionately hit the poorest children, and led to calls for babies and young children to be central to the government’s Covid recovery programme, including a one-off “baby boost” fund to enable local services to support families who have had a baby during or close to lockdown.
Oxford Brookes University researcher Dr Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez, who led the project, said: “In the event of continued local lockdowns, it is vital that disadvantaged families are given extra support to promote children’s early development. Access to communal outdoor spaces and shared resources such as libraries should only be restricted as a last resort.”
Sally Hogg, head of policy and campaigning at the Parent-Infant Foundation, said: “Sadly too many of our young children live in poverty, poor housing and without stimulating toys and books at home. These results show the impact that the closure of libraries, playgrounds and drop-in groups had for these children.
“National and local governments must hold these results in mind when making decisions about future lockdowns and families’ access to activities and support.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid: toddlers from UK’s poorest families ‘hit hardest by lockdown’ | Poverty