Researchers from the University of Oregon knew the pandemic would have a drastic effect on families with young children. So in April of 2020, they set up the Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development — Early Childhood (RAPID-EC) survey. It was sent to households across the country that have at least one child under 6 years old. Why? Because the researchers had access to decades of scientific studies that revealed stressful early-life experiences can permanently impact children’s brains and biological systems, increasing the risk of both learning difficulties and lifelong health problems such as obesity and heart disease. And they also knew that documenting the societal impact of COVID-19 would be crucial to getting support to families. 

RAPID-EC’s latest survey has tracked how young families are spending their stimulus checks and/or unemployment benefits, showing hardship and disparities. Only a small percentage of people used the money for purchasing large household items, donations and recreational use. More Black and Latinx families used their stimulus checks to pay off debt when compared to white families at the same income levels. And white families have been more likely to save the money. 

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The project lead, Philip Fisher, Ph.D, director of the Center for Translational Neuroscience and professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, had this to say about the results: “Our latest report discusses the ‘chain reaction of hardship’ that occurs when families experience material hardship — difficulty paying for basic needs like food, housing, utilities. Emotional distress increases for parents and within a few weeks, children experience emotional distress. At least 1 in 4 families and sometimes as many as 1 in 3 families have struggled to afford basic needs at any given time during the past year. Still today, as the world feels like it’s returning to normal for many Americans, 25% of families with young children under 6 years are experiencing high levels of financial and emotional distress. This can cause toxic stress and impact child brain development with long-lasting physical and mental risks. Action cannot wait. Families urgently need more financial and emotional support. Full stop.” 

Denise Castañon
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