Master of Arts
Stewart, Shannon L.
Children under the age of four are emotionally vulnerable to global disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic because of the lack of socialization opportunities and coping mechanisms, and susceptibility to heightened caregiver stress. Currently, the extent to which the pandemic impacted the mental health of treatment-seeking young children is unknown. To evaluate how children’s mental health outcomes were impacted during the pandemic, 1,343 interRAI Early Years assessments were obtained from 11 agencies across the Province of Ontario, during pre-pandemic and pandemic timepoints. Findings demonstrated that the number of assessments declined during the pandemic. Further, children’s emotional concerns differed before and during the pandemic, whereby children exhibited greater emotional dysregulation during the pandemic. However, there were no significant differences when examining caregiver distress, parenting strengths, child distractibility/inattention or behavioural issues. Clinical implications for young children and their families, clinicians, and educators are discussed.
Summary for Lay Audience
Young children under the age of four are sensitive to global disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic because of their reduced opportunities to socialize with extended family members and peers, lack of coping mechanisms, and exposure to increased parental stress. Currently, it is unknown how the pandemic impacted treatment-seeking children under four years of age. Understanding how these children were impacted by the pandemic is important so that children with mental health concerns can be identified and supported by mental health services and interventions. To determine how these young children adjusted during the pandemic, 1,343 mental health assessments were collected from 11 mental health agencies across the Province of Ontario, during pre-pandemic and pandemic timepoints. Findings demonstrated that the number of assessments declined during the pandemic, with the largest declines observed for English speakers, and children with varying guardianship and housing statuses. Results also revealed that children’s emotional concerns increased during the pandemic. However, mental health outcomes did not change for four additional indicators of interest such as caregiver distress, parenting strengths, distractibility/inattention, and behaviour. These findings emphasize the importance of prioritizing the needs of young children and their families during times of global stress, while establishing important future directions for this population.
Adam, Sarah, "The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Mental Health Presentations of Young Children" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9284.
Available for download on Wednesday, April 30, 2025