Parenting in a Pandemic: Spotlight on Young Families

By Mary Nelson    May 29, 2020

During the current health crisis, approximately 3.4 million children across America live with parents aged 18-24. These young parents jointly navigating adulthood and parenthood commonly face obstacles such as disruption in education, joblessness, access to quality child care, inadequate or unstable housing, access to comprehensive health care and mental health services, and lack of parenting experience or supports. While they may experience greater obstacles than their peers without children, they also have the capability of incredible resilience, creativity, and hope.

For today’s young parents, the challenges they may encounter are not always so different from other parents; however, the impact of COVID-19 can make these challenges far more significant.

Isolation and Loss of Support Networks – With social distancing and stay-at-home orders, many people feel a sense of isolation. However, even before COVID-19 social-isolation was a serious concern for young parents. The impact on mental health may not only affect a young parent’s personal well-being, but also a child’s sense of stability and mental health. Ensuring parents receive the needed community support and mental health services translates to healthier, more stable families overall.

Basic Needs – A majority of young parents and their children live in poverty or near poverty. Consequently, young parents largely utilize public benefits to meet the basic needs of their family, such as food, housing, and health care. COVID-19 has brought economic instability and social challenges that simply exacerbate young parents’ ability to secure basic needs. When the family’s basic needs are met, young parents can better focus on development and growth for themselves and their children.

Interruption of Child and Parent Education – With children home from school and child care, they are missing valuable opportunities to learn and develop social skills. During this time, it is likely up to parents to fill educational gaps. This also means less time to dedicate to their own education, a particular challenge for roughly 3.8 million parents enrolled in college. For young parents, capitalizing on education is a clear pathway to economic stability and overall well-being for both the child and parent.

Job Loss – Young parents are already likely to have instability in work. Of young parents who choose to work, 96% experience joblessness, often for periods greater than six months. Instability and job loss have increased as businesses close, and even as some states begin to reopen, there will likely be long-term impact on jobs. For young parents, sustainable jobs mean sustainable income to support themselves and their children. In the long-term, this opens up opportunities for job-growth and creates life-long stability for children.

Child Care – Under normal circumstances, access to  stable child care is an obstacle for young parents. In fact, lack of child care is a major reason young parents cite for experiencing joblessness and educational disruption. This is compounded by the challenges of sustaining child care during the pandemic. Additional supports from quality caregivers ensures parents can maintain their education and employment and provides children with meaningful opportunities to socialize and learn.

How to Help Young Families Right Now

Use Technology to Provide Support Remotely

Ensure Access to Necessary Financial, Child Care, and Nutrition Resources

  • Consider policy options that reduce barriers to accessing and retaining public benefits.
  • Make specific outreach efforts to provide young parents with information about COVID-19 related assistance, such as unemployment insurance, paid leave, P-EBT, and child care options.
  • Establish or strengthen existing online applications and procedures for remote processing of public benefits. For instance, New York’s newly streamlined UI application system.
  • Ensure there is proper funding and procedures for qualified child care providers to remain open. Massachusetts, for example, developed an emergency child care program for essential workers.

Support Education and Career Pathways

  • Provide remote skills development and work activities for parents to continue gaining professional skills and experience. Programs like Pennsylvania Career Link offer a range of online services.
  • Direct parents towards in-demand jobs and career pathways for future in-demand occupations for those who want and can safely work or engage in training and education activities.
  • Connect with educational institutions to see if career and technical education courses will be available online and how policies and procedures are being adapted to reflect current student needs.

It is crucial to address immediate needs for young families in light of the current health crisis, but it is also a great opportunity to begin the hard work of long-term planning to position young families for continued success. By investing in young parents, we can create a generation of rising adults armed with resources and skills that lead to strong families and thriving children.

About the Author

Mary Nelson (full bio)

Policy Associate
American Public Human Services Association

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