The COVID-19 pandemic has left children and adolescents largely unaffected in terms of infectious morbidity and mortality. A greater challenge for this age group, though, is expected in dealing with societal COVID-19 lockdown restrictions that may push children into crises and destabilize families. For sure, the current societal restrictions are a vast environmental ‘game changer’ in the lives of all Dutch children and adolescents.
Initial suggestive and anecdotal evidence points at both a negative and positive impact on children, depending on characteristics of children and families (e.g., [type of] previous mental health problems and gender) as well as environmental factors (e.g., rural vs. urban environment). We propose to study mental health problems (how do the restrictions evoke or increase problems) as well as wellbeing (how do the restrictions increase feelings of happiness and prosperity) in the full spectrum of Dutch children. In a wide multi-disciplinary team of experts, ánd children and families, as well as with access to large samples from a) the general population, b) youth care, and c) child psychiatric centres (each covering all regions of the Netherlands), we will study mental health problems and wellbeing quantitatively, while adding qualitative interviews with children and families. Study findings will be translated into prevention and intervention strategies at the individual level for children, families and clinicians, and at the societal level for policy makers, in a multi-phased feedback system, this summer and after 6- and 12-months’ time.
By carefully charting mental health problems, wellbeing, and important moderating factors (such as parental stress and socio-economic strata) in Dutch children before, during, and (hopefully) after the pandemic, we aim to prepare the future adults to most optimally cope with the consequences of an environmental game changer like COVID-19.