Sunday 7 June 2020
Three quarters of a million Australian children are likely to be experiencing employment stress in the family as a result of COVID-19. This is on top of around 615,000 children whose families were already dealing with employment stress, whose situation may have worsened.
The stress and anxiety facing parents who have lost their jobs, coupled with social isolation and educational disruption, are likely to put many children at a significantly higher risk of poorer education and health outcomes.
Financial stress affects healthy development
A family’s socio-economic status is the in Australia. Research by the Mitchell Institute has found children from struggling families are 10-20% more likely to be missing key educational milestones compared with their peers.
Percentage of school- & pre-school children with employment stress in the family
Maps - text alternative
The first map shows the proportion of preschool and school children in families affected by employment stress in 2016 across different parts of Australia. It shows that in 2016 in most regions between 5% and 25% of children were in families affected by employment stress, except in the north of the Northern Territory where the proportion of children in families experiencing employment stress was between 35% and 45%.
The second map shows the Mitchell Institute's estimates of the proportion of children in families affected by employment stress in 2020 following COVID-19. It shows that in 2020 there have been large increases of employment stress right across Australia, with at least 30% of children living in families with employment stress in almost all areas and even higher concentrations in many regions, including the northern parts of the Northern Territory.
As stress in the home increases, children and young people’s health and well-being often suffers too. Extreme employment stress, for example in jobless households, can compromise the quality of parenting and home environments. Providing basic necessities can be challenging, and lead to poorer child nutrition.
Preschools & schools can help children recover
Many students will benefit by simply resuming learning and socialising at their preschool or school. Others will find life returns to normal as their parents return to work or find a new job, and their families regain financial security.
But previous recessions tell us recovery may be slow. For some parents, unemployment and underemployment will be prolonged, leaving many children, including some who were never previously considered vulnerable, at risk.
Here’s what needs to happen
The Australian government has made childcare free for parents as part of a temporary relief package, but that policy is under review.
Along with an emphasis on academic learning and re-engaging students with school routines, school children would benefit from an . Supporting students to reconnect socially and will improve academic learning and should be central to schools’ efforts.
Links between schools and external social and health services also need to be strengthened to support children of all ages. Many of the issues that need to be addressed to reduce student vulnerability occur at home and in the community, requiring targeted and expert care from a range of non-school service providers.
Dedicated well-being staff could be employed in schools to facilitate these connections, and drive schools’ focus on health and well-being.
Senior secondary students from education as a result of disruption and parental unemployment. Prior to COVID-19, the cost of leaving school early was calculated at around . Helping students remain in education is critical to improving health and employment outcomes later in life.
Current funding arrangements will not enable preschools and schools to adequately respond to this unprecedented situation. Investing in prevention and outreach now is vastly more effective than dealing with the fallout later.