Abstract: Parenting during COVID-19: Unmet Needs and Family Wellbeing (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Parenting during COVID-19: Unmet Needs and Family Wellbeing

Friday, January 13, 2023
Maryvale A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Jill Hoiting, MSW, PhD Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Kristen Slack, PhD, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Background and Purpose: Parenting during COVID-19 comes with unique circumstances and challenges as families have socially distanced and adapted to new daily routines. Prior research has established that strains experienced in this global crisis, like homeschooling children, health concerns and social isolation, are associated with a range of negative outcomes for parents and children, including increased stress and worsened mental health (Gadermann et al., 2021; Gassman-Pines et al., 2020; Lee et al., 2021). A mismatch between the demands parents face and the resources available to them is associated with greater stress and parental burnout (Griffith, 2020; Mikolajczak & Roskam, 2018). Whether and how the mismatch between pandemic-related strains and external resources (e.g., available social and community supports), particularly beyond those financial in nature, relate to parental stress, mental health, and familial relationships is less understood. Using measures of unmet need as a proxy for the mismatch between pandemic-related strains and external resources, we investigate the types of needs that were most likely to be unmet during the first six to seven months of the pandemic, and whether individual and cumulative unmet needs predict aspects of family well-being related to caregiver stress, child-caregiver relationships, and caregiver mental health.

Methods: Family Resource Centers (FRCs), community-based organizations primarily serving families with young children, disseminated an electronic survey to primary caregivers in one Midwestern state in September and October 2020. We analyze data collected from 132 caregivers, mostly mothers who are white, partnered, between the ages of 31 and 50, and have earned at least a two-year post-secondary degree. We use logistic regression with socio-demographic control variables to predict four outcomes: caregivers’ self-reports of current stress level, retrospective assessments of changes in their stress level since the onset of the pandemic, and their perceived impact of the pandemic on child-parent relationships and their mental health.

Results: Caregivers experienced a range of unmet needs during the pandemic, with age-appropriate ideas for children, parenting help or support, and homeschooling help or support being the most prevalent. We find that the total unmet needs experienced by a family is associated with a higher likelihood of each of the four negative outcomes, with the strongest associations found for declines in mental health. Certain unmet needs, such as those regarding homeschooling help or support, caregiving help or support, personal protective equipment, and access to parks and recreational spaces have an increased likelihood of worse outcomes related to stress and mental health.

Conclusions and Implications: Much of the pandemic relief and stimulus legislation afffecting families in the U.S. addressed financial needs through stimulus payments, unemployment insurance, food assistance programs and eviction moratoria. Our findings suggest that a much broader variety of interventions and relief strategies, including parenting and homeschooling support, as well as parks and recreational spaces, are necessary to better address the myriad needs of families. More exploration is needed on whether these needs persist and go unmet over a longer term, particularly as the economy and labor force continues to change.