Early results from the Co-SPACE study, which asks parents and carers about their children’s mental health through the COVID-19 crisis, show:

  • Parents/carers of primary school age children taking part in the survey report an increase in their child’s emotional, behavioural, and restless/attentional difficulties.
  • Parents/carers of secondary school age children report a reduction in their child’s emotional difficulties, but an increase in restless/attentional behaviours.
  • Adolescents taking part in the survey report no change in their own emotional or behavioural, and restless/attentional difficulties.
  • Parents/carers of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and those with a pre-existing mental health difficulty report a reduction in their child’s emotional difficulties and no change in behavioural or restless/attentional difficulties.

More than 10,000 parents have now taken part in the Co-SPACE (COVID-19 Supporting Parents, Adolescents, and Children in Epidemics) survey led by experts at the University of Oxford.

Parents and carers also reported that their children’s behaviour had got worse over time, with an increase in behaviours such as temper tantrums, arguments and children not doing what they are asked. Parents and carers in the survey also reported that their children showed greater levels of restlessness/ and fidgety behaviour and difficulties concentrating over the one month period.

Prioritising the mental health of children and young people throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond is critical. These findings highlight that there is wide variation in how children and young people have been affected. Some sources of variation have been identified, but we need to continue to gain a better understanding of which families are struggling and what they need to help direct the right advice and support going forward to ensure that this does not have long-lasting consequences.

Professor Cathy Creswell

Perhaps surprisingly, the same pattern was not seen in the older age group of 11-16 year olds. Teenagers themselves reported no change in their emotional difficulties between the two time points and their parents and carers reported that they felt that their child’s emotional difficulties had actually improved. Neither teenagers nor their parents reported any changes in their behaviour over this time but parents felt that their children were more restless and had more difficulty concentrating over time.

The Co-SPACE (COVID-19 Supporting Parents, Adolescents, and Children in Epidemics) survey is still open for parents and carers to share their experiences www.cospaceoxford.com/survey. This research is tracking children and young people’s mental health throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Survey results are helping researchers identify what protects children and young people from deteriorating mental health, over time, and at particular stress points, and how this may vary according to child and family characteristics. This will help to identify what advice, support and help parents would find most useful.

Further Co-SPACE updates can be found online at Emerging Minds.