Although based on international data, the article below from The Conversation remains relevant to local readers.
Babies born after March 11, 2020 will have known only one world in the grip of a pandemic. They may never have met someone who is not their parent, or they may have never seen their grandparents except from a distance. They will certainly not have had the same opportunities to interact with other children as those born in previous years.
What are the implications for these pandemic children?
While as researchers we believe most babies will have had the opportunity to thrive, there is still a lot we don’t know, and we’re clear that the first few months and years of life are vitally important to a child’s health. long-term health, development and well-being.
Development takes place at an extraordinary rate during a baby’s first year, when the the brain doubles in size. This early development crucially depends on experience, and in particular on social experience, which stimulates, adjusts and refines the developing architecture of the brain.
A stimulating, varied and responsive environment promotes the development of language, cognitive, emotional and social skills. This dependence on environmental inputs makes the brain extremely flexible and able to adapt. But, at the same time, it also means that babies are very sensitive to the negative impacts of adversity.
One thing we also know with great certainty is that parental stress and mental health problems pose serious risks to children’s further development, affecting their language and cognitive development, their emotional well-being and putting them at risk for depression and anxiety.
Unfortunately, support systems for babies and their families have been deeply disturbed by the pandemic. As is unfortunately often the case, it is the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children who depend the most on these services and support networks.
For example, many health visitors, who provide advice and resources and are often the primary source of support and connection to health services for families with young babies, have been redeployed in frontline Covid response during the pandemic. Those who stayed reported that their work with families was significantly affected by the very high number of cases and the barriers created by social distancing measures.
Many have expressed concerns about their ability to monitor children’s development and refer families to specialized support services when parents are experiencing mental health issues.
On top of that, friends and family have seen their ability to visit loved ones and babies drastically reduced.
Social support from friends, family, community groups and professionals is normally viewed as vital not only because it provides infants with variety, stimulation and learning opportunities, but also because it provides infants with variety, stimulation and learning opportunities. is good for the well-being of parents, on whom babies are so dependent.
So, under these circumstances, what can parents do to help their babies? The the evidence suggests that the key to optimal development lies in play and stimulation, these two-way interactions between caregivers and babies.
Following a child’s example when he is interested in an object, naming objects, talking, laughing, singing and reading – all simple and inexpensive activities – allow babies to learn and develop even when the outside world is in trouble.
Babies at risk
There are good reasons to be concerned about infant and young child development during this time, and like so many other things, these risks will not be distributed evenly.
The lack of support structures, economic pressures, and the drastic reduction in professional contact with health visitors and social workers during the pandemic almost certainly put large numbers of babies at significantly increased risk of harm, including risk. mistreatment and even death.
The effects of abuse on child development are profound and lasting, including long-term physical disability, emotional distress, and mental health problems. To give a striking example, almost half of all mental health problems in adults are associated with a history of child abuse.
In normal times, child abuse affects around 12% to 23% of children, and economically disadvantaged children are five times more likely to be abused. In the UK, 51,510 children benefited from a child protection plan in March 2020 when the pandemic started.
During the pandemic, local authorities reported more than 300 serious incidents of injury and death involving children between April and October 2020 – up a fifth from the same period last year. An increased proportion (almost 40%) concerned children under one year of age.
We also know that domestic violence rates have increased dramatically during the pandemic and babies are deeply affected, both directly and indirectly.
Indeed, domestic violence is the most common factor leading a child to be referred to a child protection service. At best, we are unfortunately underinvesting in the most vulnerable children. We should be extremely concerned about them at times like these.
Baby’s blind spot
Babies need stimulation, social contact and attentive care, and all of this will have been affected in complex ways during the pandemic, but we lack strong evidence on how this plays out.
Oxford Brookes University has conducted a study focused on how the pandemic is affecting the youngest children, and will provide us with much-needed information in a timely manner. But it’s a concern that even now, a year later, we have very little information about how babies and preschoolers have been affected by the important events that have taken place.
This highlights a key point: Although babies are among the most vulnerable in society and the most dependent on care and stimulation, their needs are almost always the last to be noticed. The recent Working for Babies Report called it the “baby blind spot,” with good reason.
At this point in the pandemic, we desperately need good data to understand how babies have been and may continue to be affected for years to come. Clearly, the time has come to step up our responsibility to all babies born in these strange times.
This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license.
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