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By Melissa Mincic

“We need help for basic necessities like health care, food and shelter.” “We need reliable child care!”

Jenga game. credit: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.enThe Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development–Early Childhood project, or RAPID-EC, offers a variety of stakeholders─policymakers, advocates and researchers to name a few─a first-person look at how COVID-19 has impacted the day-to-day lives of more than 1,000 families with young children across the country.

A typical day in the life of a family might look something like this: Good morning … hurry … eat breakfast, get dressed, child care drop off and then off to work. Followed by a strictly scheduled child care pick up, rush to the grocery store, dinner … bath time, pajamas, tuck the little one in … wake up to do it all over again. Families’ daily lives are often like a game of Jenga─a delicate balancing act, each block dependent on the one placed before it sitting just right—all of them building a precarious tower by the end of a long day. Any disruption to even one building block could mean that each day’s tower doesn’t get built or falls over completely.

For some families with young children, the pandemic has meant not days but months with incomplete and shaky towers. For millions of families, the building blocks of their daily lives─namely stable child care arrangements and a steady income─have been missing and may be lost forever.

What is the RAPID-EC project?

What is it like to parent a young child in the middle of a global pandemic? How has COVID-19 changed families’ daily lives? How have these changes influenced parents and children? The University of Oregon’s Center for Translational Neuroscience is answering these questions and many others through their RAPID-EC study.

Since the beginning of April, the RAPID-EC team has been collecting weekly surveys from over 1,000 households across the country with children ages birth to 5. The survey asks about everything from finances, health care, caregivers’ well-being and children’s emotional well-being and behaviors. Participating families are representative of the nation’s geography, income, race and ethnicity. The project offers timely new information for understanding families’ first-hand experiences of raising young children during the COVID-19 pandemic to answer one more question: What more can policymakers do to support families through this crisis?

RAPID-EC Resources for Policymakers

“I’d like legislators to keep the importance of children’s long-term development in mind,” said Dr. Phil Fisher, director of the university’s Center for Translational Neuroscience and RAPID-EC project director. “Our work highlights how significantly factors like toxic stress and structural inequalities based on race/ethnicity, income and family structure can negatively influence children’s brain development and mental health.”

On the RAPID-EC website, legislators can find answers to broad questions, as well as an opportunity to answer more specific policy questions:

  • Reports and policy briefs: Quick reads summarizing survey findings to date. These cover broader topics such as COVID’s impacts on single-parent and lower-income families and parents’ adaptations to changing school and child care arrangements due to COVID-related closures.
  • Survey item bank: A tool including current survey questions administered to families across the country. Legislators can view the survey and contact RAPID-EC staff to answer a specific policy question about their states they have in mind, or they can make suggestions a future survey question if no current question addresses a specific policy topic.
  • Open-ended survey responses: A tool including over 100,000 families’ responses from every state to survey questions asking about their needs. Legislators can read direct quotes from families when asked questions such as “What would you like your elected officials or other policymakers. . .to know about how your family is doing or what you need during this time?”

RAPID-EC staff continue to develop resources for legislators, and now they want the information to reach policymakers directly. “We … hope that legislators find RAPID-EC resources useful when considering legislative action supporting the childcare system and workforce to enhance long-term development for children,” Fisher said. Watch the project website for new resources this year.

Melissa Mincic is a senior policy specialist in NCSL's Children and Families Program.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.