One year after the United States declared a public health emergency due to COVID-19, families across California continue to struggle. We once again partnered with the Education Trust West and other partners on a survey of 600 parents of children ages 0-5 in California. Conducted during the first two weeks of February 2021, this survey follows an earlier survey conducted in late April 2020.
Many California families have been struggling to meet their basic needs even before the pandemic began due to systemic racism and historic under-investments in low-income communities of color. These findings show that the pandemic continues to exacerbate inequities in health, mental health, and social determinants of health.
(1) Parents have ongoing and intense concerns about the impact the coronavirus is having on the mental health of themselves and their family, as well as their child’s development and overall well-being.
- Mental Health: 70% of parents worry about their and their family’s mental health as a result of the pandemic. 87% of parents agree that receiving referrals to mental health clinics and providers could help them but only 13% currently have received or have access to referrals.
- Socialization: 73% agree they worry about their child’s ability to socialize with other children because of the pandemic
- Education and Development: 74% agree they are worried that their child’s education and development are suffering because of the pandemic
(2) California’s parents of young children continue to struggle with financial and job-related insecurity.
- Unemployment: Unemployment and temporary loss of work are disproportionately impacting low-income parents and Latinx families — 1 in 3 (35%) low-income parents with young children are experiencing unemployment and nearly 1 in 4 (23%) Latinx families with young children are experiencing unemployment compared to one in 10 (15%) of all families with young children.
- Finances: Finances are particularly concerning for low-income parents and parents of color: 59% of low-income parents and 40% of parents of color, including 43% of Latinx parents, say they feel uneasy about their personal finances over the next several months (compared to 33% among parents overall).
- Pay/hour reduction: Even among employed parents, over a third (37%) say that they have had their pay or hours reduced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic (a five-point increase since April).
(3) California’s parents of young children continue to experience significant hardship around expenses that support basic human needs like food and housing.
- Basic human needs: 1 in 3 (34%) parents with young children overall are concerned about affording expenses that support basic human needs like food and housing – the number increases for low-income parents and parents of color: Over 1 in 2 (59%) percent of low-income parents and 40% of parents of color, including 42% of Latinx parents, say they are unsure or will not be able to afford basic expenses like food and housing.
- Skipping or reducing meals: As a result of these ongoing issues, over the last year parents have continued to compensate for a lack of steady income, fears of future financial instability, and food availability. Over a third of parents of young children in the state (36%) say they have skipped or reduced the size of their own or their child’s meals as a result of the coronavirus crisis, down just six points from the beginning of the pandemic. That number increases significantly among low-income parents: nearly 1 in 2 low-income parents (46%) say they have skipped or reduced the size of their own or their child’s meals as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
(4) Parents are struggling with accessing health care for themselves and their children during the pandemic.
- Public Health Insurance: 1 in 2 (50%) of parents sought to enroll in state sponsored health insurance (Covered CA or Medi-Cal) after losing their employer-sponsored insurance. Over a third of parents overall (34%) have attempted to enroll themselves or their family in Medi-Cal during the pandemic. For many parents, enrolling in Medi-Cal was not easy — half (50%) stated that they had problems and/or issues when applying and enrolling in Medi-Cal; the most common being the need for a lot of follow-up (23%), found the application confusing (21%) or couldn’t reach a county worker to apply (18%).
- Telehealth: Slightly over a quarter of parents overall (26%) say they have not been able to access medical care using telehealth during the pandemic. For those who have been able to access medical care using telehealth, 94% were satisfied with their experience. The vast majority (94%) of parents agree that accessing their child’s doctor via telehealth could help them, but only 48% currently access their child’s doctor using telehealth (this number has increased significantly since the April 2020 survey; at that time, only 18% of parents currently had access to their child’s doctor using telehealth).
- Well-Child Visits and Immunizations: 32% of parents say they have missed well-child health appointments for their child since the pandemic first began. 18% of parents have missed immunizations for their children.
(5) There are a number of supports that could help parents of young children during the pandemic, but not all parents have access to them.
- 88% of parents indicated that extending financial and social supports to all California families, regardless of immigration status, would help parents with young children
- 94% indicated that providing parents access to their child’s doctor via telehealth through technology like a computer, tablet, or telephone would help parents with young children, but only 48% currently access their child’s doc using telehealth (was 18% in April 2020)
- 93% indicated that connecting parents to that can help with food, housing, employment, health, and other emergency needs would help parents with young children, but only 20% currently have access to to these supports
- 87% indicated that providing referrals to mental health clinics and providers would help parents with young children, but only 13% currently have access to referrals
Based on the results of this poll, we have identified the following policy recommendations that address the challenges impacting families with young children in California:
- Invest in community-centered mental health services.
- Create whole-family wellness hubs in our most under-resourced communities that connect families to social supports such as housing, health care, legal services, and education.
- Streamline enrollment across public benefits programs to make it easier for families to enroll in programs and quickly access health, food, housing, and other supports.
- Increase investment in food and other public benefits programs available to all families regardless of their immigration status.
- Provide more access to health and mental health services through continuous coverage in Medi-Cal for young children 0-5 post-pandemic and for 12 months postpartum.
- Advance digital equity and increase community engagement and outreach in order to expand access to telehealth services.