ABU DHABI, TGO: The Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA) has partnered with the New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) to conduct a survey to understand the impact of COVID-19 on children and their families in the emirate.
Titled ‘Life During COVID: Young Children & their Families in Abu Dhabi’, the survey aimed to gain insights into what families have experienced during the pandemic, to generate research-based recommendations to improve policies, practices and response plans for future emergencies that impact child development.
According to a recent UNICEF ‘Life in Lockdown’ report (2021), there are only a few studies globally that explore the consequences of COVD-19 on children under nine years old. This Abu Dhabi-based survey targeted parents with children aged 0-8 years, in addition to conducting interviews with children aged 4-8 years. The research took place at two different time points (September 2020 and February 2021) to examine how responses changed over time. The research focused on measuring the impact of COVID-19 on several aspects, including mental and physical health, education, social interactions, work and screen time.
A total of 835 parents completed the survey, 96 percent of them were married, 75 percent were mothers, and 69 percent have a college degree. As for children of the parents surveyed, 56 percent of respondents were girls, 55 percent aged 0-3 years, and 11 were children of determination. About 52 percent of participating families were from Abu Dhabi, while 46 percent of them were from Al Ain and 2 percent from Al Dhafra. About 31 percent of respondents were UAE nationals and 69 percent of them were expatriates.
According to ECA, the research results showed significant changes in lifestyle due to the pandemic, both positive and negative. Notably, parents’ perceived risk of getting COVID-19 increased over time. However, improvements in terms of healthy eating habits, body weight, sleep quality, physical activity, and wellbeing were observed in both parents and children. The survey also found more improvements in wellbeing and physical activity for fathers compared to that of mothers who reported higher levels of stress.
“Historical pandemic research shows that staying healthy and feeling psychologically safe are some of the key challenges of living in a pandemic. Our COVID-19 research reveals that this is the area where the current pandemic has had the greatest impact in the lives of families with young children”, said Jocelyn Bélanger, Associate Professor of Psychology, NYUAD.
“The present research addresses an important gap in knowledge regarding the impact of COVID-19 on families with young children living in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The key takeaway from our research is that the current pandemic produced important lifestyle changes for parents and young children”, said Antje von Suchodoletz, Assistant Professor of Psychology, NYUAD.
The research also found that parents experienced greater ease with supporting their children during emergency homeschooling over time. However, the quality of parents’ relationship with their child significantly declined. While parents’ screen time remained constant across the survey’s two waves, children’s screen time increased significantly, especially for children aged 0-3.
Interviews conducted with children have indicated they felt less anxious over time. About 20 percent of parents experienced job loss during the pandemic. This percentage was stable over time. Perceived economic hardship was stable for parents with children aged 4-8 years, but significantly increased for parents with children aged 0-3.
In this regard, Hamda Mohamed Al Suwaidi, a researcher at ECA, said, “Our collaboration with NYUAD comes within efforts to strengthen partnerships with local and international organisations, institutes, universities and research centres.
“Given ECA’s role as a knowledge hub, we are supporting decision-makers by developing and disseminating research, data and evidence. This collaboration further supports our endeavors to develop and implement an effective early childhood development research ecosystem, to inform evidence-based policymaking, provide the best resources and conduct high-quality research.”
Al Suwaidi affirmed the importance of this research in identifying impacts of COVID-19 on children and their families, to enable stakeholders develop improved policies for children and address challenges facing their development. She noted the research is a cornerstone for many future studies addressing early childhood, with the aim of developing evidence-based services, programmes and policies.