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UO Research Project Tracks Effects of Pandemic on Families with Young Children


A University of Oregon-led research project has been tracking the neurological effects of the coronavirus pandemic on families with children under 5 years old since April.




The project, called RAPID-EC (which stands for Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development—Early Childhood), is designed to influence legislation in order to fund programs that support young children. 


According to Philip Fisher, lead psychologist for RAPID and director of the Center for Translational Neuroscience, young ages are a sensitive time for healthy brain development, and chronic stressors like the pandemic can have a lasting impact.


“With childcare centers closing, people having to adjust to working remotely, or losing their jobs altogether,” Fisher says. “The circumstances were different than what they had been for a lot of families in terms of what the pandemic was presenting.”


Fisher says the pandemic is not equally affecting people in the same ways. Weekly surveys sent to national participants suggest lower-income households are experiencing stress factors that were not present before the pandemic began. 


Specifically, issues with food and security correlate with higher stress levels among adults in lower-income families. Additionally, many services for families with children are no longer available, and survey responses show concern about the safety of returning to childcare.


“We expect developmental stress factors to be present long after a vaccine is found,” says Fisher. “The results that we’re putting out will allow us to continue our research as long as the results being produced are useful.”


Fisher believes RAPID’s data is information that is actionable for policymakers in state legislatures, learning divisions, and especially for those attempting to address shortages in healthcare and education for young children.


“In addition to doing a national survey,” Fisher says, “we’re preparing to do more intensive state based surveys because a lot of policy is done at a state level.”


Though RAPID’s funding will allow research to continue until the end of summer, Fisher’s team is seeking to identify more funding sources that can support state-based surveys on a weekly basis.



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