Abstract: "We Are Not in This Together": Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on the Family Relationships and the Lives of Urban Black and Latinx Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

"We Are Not in This Together": Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on the Family Relationships and the Lives of Urban Black and Latinx Youth

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 10, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Carolina Vélez-Grau, PhD, LCSW, Provost's Postdoctoral Fellow/Assistant Professor, New York University, New York, NY
Laura Mufson, PhD, Professor of Medical Psychology (in Psychiatry) at CUMC; Associate Director, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; Director of Clinical Psychology, New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University, New York
Karen Buelvas, MSW, Social Work Student, New York University, New York, NY
Michael A. Lindsey, PhD, MSW, MPH, Executive Director; School's Constance and Martin Silver Professor of Poverty Studies, McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, New York, NY

Black and Latinx individuals have been disproportionally affected with high mortality and morbidity rates resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has also highlighted racial inequalities (e.g., discrimination, financial, housing insecurity), posing tremendous stress on ethnocultural families. This negative impact on families trickled down to their children. Yet, there is little understanding—from the adolescent perspective—about the impact of COVID-19. Given that families are a crucial support for Latinx and Black adolescents, this study aimed to explore adolescents' perceptions of how COVID-19 has affected their relationships with families. The family relationship theory, which focuses on Black and Latinx youth, highlights three dimensions: 1) cohesion (bonds), 2) structure (organization), and 3) beliefs (expectations) and provides a framework for the study.


A phenomenological qualitative study design was used to explore adolescents' perceptions of the impact of COVID-19 on their relationships with families. A total of 29 Latinx and Black adolescents aged 13 to 17 participated in five 90-minute focus groups, ranging in size from 5 to 10 participants, during the summer and fall of 2020. Data were gathered using standard focus group methods. Focus groups were held online via the university Zoom account. Framework analysis was used to code data for emergent themes. This type of analysis was selected because it is suitable to answer contextual research questions and emphasizes both a priori issues and emergent data. We followed the five-step process of carrying out a framework analysis: 1) Familiarizing with data, 2) Identifying a framework. 3) Indexing, 4) Charting, and 5) Mapping and Interpreting. Six themes emerged.


Findings indicated that COVID-19 impacted family dimensions in different ways. Changes in structure and cohesion were noted, yet family beliefs remained unchanged. Participants expressed constant worries about the family's financial stability, death of grandparents, and parents' illness due to C COVID-19. Although the initial months of the lockdown increased time spent with families, it did not increase meaningful communication or emotional closeness. Indeed, for many of adolescents, the lockdown increased tension among family members and raised a sense of not belonging. Despite dramatic changes in the school setting, a dissonance between unchanged high parental academic expectations and the adolescents' struggles to maintain these expectations resulted in internal tension and constant worries about failing school and disappointing parents. Under these stressful conditions, adolescents perceived that parents were emotionally unavailable to them and unable to communicate their constant worries and concerns related to the struggles in school, missing friends, and worrying about the health and finances of the family.


Hearing directly from Black and Latinx adolescents about how COVID-19 impacted family's structure, cohesion, and beliefs, as well as their school lives, illuminated strategies to support them. Integration of families in school and mental health services, equitable access to high quality of mental health care, and active emphatic listening may be necessary to lessen the pandemic's impact on ethnocultural youth. These efforts will require an ecological approach in which family, school, community, and policy factors are considered, and partnerships at each level are established.