Master of Arts
Stewart, Shannon L.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the mental health of children and families. As a result of the relationship between children’s mental health, parents and service use, this study sought to explore the impacts of the pandemic, age and sex on children’s mental health outcomes, parenting quality, and service complexity. Data consisted of interRAI Child and Youth Mental Health Assessments from 5,067 children and youth between the age of 4-18-years-old. Surprisingly, our findings revealed no changes in parenting quality and children’s mental health during the pandemic. Findings revealed a significant decrease in service complexity during the first few months of the pandemic. Compared to younger males, older female children were more likely to experience internalizing symptoms and less likely to display externalizing symptoms. Older children (vs. younger children) were more likely to receive low parenting quality and experience service complexity. Implications for clinicians, parents, and schools are discussed.
Summary for Lay Audience
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in children, parents, and families experiencing changes in their mental health, behaviour, and overall wellbeing. The current study aimed to explore the impacts of the pandemic, age, and sex on children’s mental health and parenting and is the first to explore trends in children who required more intensive and complex mental health services during the pandemic. Children and youth who were accessing mental health services at agencies across the province of Ontario were assessed by trained mental health professionals who collected information to better understand their concerns and where to focus their treatment and support. Our findings showed that the pandemic did not change parenting quality (e.g., communication, discipline, warmth) or children’s mental health (e.g., anxiety, behaviour). Children who required more intensive and complex services was more common before the pandemic than during the first few months of the pandemic. In terms of age and sex, we found that older female children (vs. younger male children) were more likely to show mental health concerns such as anxious thoughts, but they were less likely to show behavioural problems. Finally, older children were more likely to receive low parenting quality, such as lower levels of parental warmth and support, as well as need more intensive and complex services compared to younger children. These findings can help to inform how mental health professionals plan for their client’s treatment. Understanding the impacts of the pandemic on children’s service needs can better prepare us for future world-wide crises. This research can also help parents and school staff to understand the risks with children’s age and/or sex to help prevent or manage children’s mental health concerns.
Withers, Abigail, "Exploring Parenting, Children’s Mental Health, and Service Complexity Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9408.
Available for download on Thursday, July 31, 2025