Parenting amid COVID-19: Challenges and Supports for Families with Young Children in South Africa

National response mechanisms, including lockdown regulations and financial and food aid, have exacerbated adversity and provided support. They have also exposed existing inequalities, with individuals and families able to cope and recover to varying degrees. Families with young children, specifically those under the age of 5, are rarely the focus of outreach, although they care for the most vulnerable group in our society.

A short online survey was launched in late 2020 on a zero‐cost mobile application reaching over 2 million users. A total of 15 912 individuals were eligible for participation and 13 224 parents (caring for 18 858 children under 5 years) were included in the analytic sample. Outcomes were grouped by (a) negative impacts of the pandemic, including disruptions in childcare, missed clinic visits, feeding challenges, difficulties in showing affection, behavioural challenges, and violence in the home; and (b) support received and required by the family. Chi‐squared tests examined outcomes across the socio‐demographic variables and standardised adjusted residuals were calculated to measure strength of differences.

Fathers made up 30% of the sample. Just over half of parents cared for one child under 5 and 41% for 2 ‐ 3 children under 5. More than three‐quarters (82%) of parents reported experiencing at least one challenge, with the most common being disruptions in childcare (69%), difficulties feeding their child (50%) and showing affection (41%). The main underlying factors were fear of infection, lack of money and negative affect in the household including stress, tension and a sense of hopelessness and depression. Fathers and families living in rural areas reported the most challenges. They were more likely to report difficulties showing affection, struggles in providing meals for young children, and higher levels of violence towards children in the home. Although needs considerably outweighed support received, government compared with civil society organisations and communities had the highest penetration of support to families, reaching between a quarter and a third of families.

Families with young children face many challenges with little outside support for their material and psychosocial needs. It is essential that those mandated with ensuring the wellbeing of young children understand the needs of families and have the capacity to reach them in general, and particularly during times of crisis.


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