Resource Summary

The monthly research summary provides a selection of recently released papers, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses related to infant and child mental health.

Each summary includes an introductory overview of the content for the month, followed by a list of selected articles. Each article is accompanied by a brief synopsis which presents the key messages and highlights. Links to abstracts, full-text articles and related resources, where available, are provided.

What's new this month in child mental health research?

This month’s highlights include:

To control a second-wave COVID-19 outbreak, the state of Victoria in Australia experienced one of the world’s first long and strict lockdowns over July-October 2020, while the rest of Australia experienced ‘COVID-normal’ with minimal restrictions. This research compares trajectories of parent/child mental health outcomes in Victoria vs non-Victoria and identifies baseline demographic, individual and COVID-19-related factors associated with mental health trajectories.

This is a nationally representative Australian study on parents’ work schedules and psychological resources important to working parent’s parental functioning:  psychological distress, work-family conflict and relationship quality. The study highlights links between non-standard schedules and marital quality. It also highlights the association between work schedules and family conflict were not due to work itself, and that working non-standard hours affects fathers more than mothers.

This systematic review considers factors after adoption that affect mental health or behavioural difficulties. Findings from this review may be used for future research and to shape interventions and practice. This study highlights the importance of focusing on the multitude of systemic factors surrounding the child such as the parent, parent-child interactions, family and context.

School belonging is fundamental to the wellbeing and academic success of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) students. This paper discusses a research collaboration that investigated ways in which an Australian school, dedicated to the settlement and English language development of newly arrived migrant and refugee children, creates and promote belonging.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and children: Additional resources, research, and reports

Recently released research on COVID-19:

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health problems in many individuals, including children. This systematic review and meta-analysis explored the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of children aged 5–13 years-old, while highlighting the specific difficulties experienced by children with neurodevelopmental issues or chronic health conditions. It found that children’s mental health was generally negatively impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect was larger in European vs Asian countries.

Parent and child mental health over lockdowns in Australia

Parent and child mental health trajectories April 2020 to May 2021: Strict lockdown versus no lockdown in Australia

Authors: Westrupp E. M., Greenwood C. J., Fuller-Tyszkiewicz M., Olsson C. A., Sciberras E., Mikocka-Walus A., et al.

Journal: The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry

Highlights 

  • To control a second-wave COVID-19 outbreak, the state of Victoria in Australia experienced one of the world’s first long and strict lockdowns over July-October 2020, while the rest of Australia experienced ‘COVID-normal’ with minimal restrictions.
  • This research compares trajectories of parent/child mental health outcomes in Victoria vs non-Victoria and identifies baseline demographic, individual and COVID-19-related factors associated with mental health trajectories.

Key findings

  • A sample of 2004 Australian parents were recruited through social media advertisement and data was collected at 14 time-points over April 2020 to May 2021. Parent mental health was assessed using the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scales-21), child depression symptoms were assessed using the 13-item Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire, and child anxiety symptoms were measured using four items from Brief Spence Children’s Anxiety Scale.
  • Mental health trajectories shadowed COVID-19 infection rates. Victorians reported a peak in mental health symptoms at the time of the second-wave lockdown (July-October 2020) compared to other states.
  • There was a steep recovery in Victorian mental health symptoms in late 2020 and early 2021, but then another substantial increase in parent (nation-wide) and child (particularly Victorian children) mental health symptoms in April–May 2021.
  • Factors that predicted elevated mental health trajectories were: parent and child loneliness, parent/child diagnoses, couple conflict, and COVID-19 stressors, such as worry/concern about COVID-19, illness and loss of job.
  • Housing factors, such as larger outdoor space and housing satisfaction, were protective and associated with lower peaks in parent and child mental health symptoms in both lockdown periods.

Implications

  • During the second strict lockdown in Victoria, this study showed worse trajectories of parent and child mental health symptoms compared to other states. This highlighted that Victoria faced unique challenges that can affect mental health, or exacerbate mental health difficulties, compared to other states in Australia.
  • Some groups of parents/children with particular risk factors were more susceptible to mental health declines, and these groups may need to be specifically considered early in future lockdowns or crisis events.
  • Availability of online interventions or services to provide surveillance and support to parents/children with pre-existing conditions, to support family strengthening and increase social connectedness to reduce loneliness may be helpful.

 

Read the abstract

Effects of nonstandard working hours on parental functioning

How does working nonstandard hours impact psychological resources important for parental functioning? Evidence from an Australian longitudinal cohort study

Authors: Y. Zhao, A. Cooklin, P. Butterworth, L. Strazdins and L. S. Leach

Journal: SSM- Population Health

Highlights

  • This is a nationally representative Australian study on parents’ work schedules and psychological resources important to working parent’s parental functioning: psychological distress, work-family conflict and relationship quality.
  • The study highlights links between non-standard schedules and marital quality. It also highlights the association between work schedules and family conflict were not due to work itself, and that working non-standard hours affects fathers more than mothers.

Key findings

  • Work was considered ‘non-standard’ when a considerable proportion of work hours fell outside the typical 9am-to-5pm.
  • Data from fathers and mothers are analysed separately, using a nationally representative sample of dual-earner parents (6190 observations from 1915 couples) drawn from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC).
  • Fathers working nonstandard schedules, specifically undertaking rotating shifts, had higher work-family conflict compared to fathers working standard schedules, while no such effect found for mothers.
  • Fathers had higher psychological distress when working evening or night shifts.
  • For fathers, working nonstandard schedules was significantly, and potentially causally, associated with lower relationship quality (i.e. within-person effects were found).

Implications

  • As one of the first nationally representative longitudinal studies to explore changes in work schedules in association with changes in parents’ psychosocial resources, the impacts for fathers (particularly relationship quality) are important to consider for future research.
  • Although this paper does not investigate child mental health outcomes, it explores how parents can be impacted by non-work schedules, which may, in turn, have effects on children through work-family conflict, parental relationships and parental psychological distress.

 

Read the full text

Risk and protective factors of mental health in adopted children

Mental health and behavioural difficulties in adopted children: A systematic review of post-adoption risk and protective factors

Authors: Duncan M., Woolgar M., Ransley R. and Fearon P.

Journal: Adoption & Fostering

Highlights

  • This systematic review considers factors after adoption that affect mental health or behavioural difficulties. Findings from this review may be used for future research and to shape interventions and practice.
  • This study highlights the importance of focusing on the multitude of systemic factors surrounding the child such as the parent, parent-child interactions, family and context.

Key findings

  • There is some evidence that child-centred approaches in parenting style show more positive effects to child mental health. These approaches can help to mitigate the cumulative risks faced by the child from the pre-adoptive environment.
  • The study found there is an important role of adoptive parental mental health as a risk factor for children’s adjustment, especially parental stress, and not just diagnosable mental health issues, are important risk factors.
  • Ethnic socialisation in transracially adopted families was an important aspect of parent– child relationships associated with adoptees’ well-being for many adopted children.
  • There appears to be a role for adoptive parents being able to recognise and communicate about the inherent differences associated with being an adoptive family, but the evidence on the benefits of communicative openness is inconclusive.
  • Internationally adopted children may face experiences of discrimination and identity difficulties which can affect self-esteem and, in turn, mental health.
  • satisfaction with contact between adoptive parents and birth parents, is an important influence on children’s mental well-being.

Implications

  • Parenting styles and contextual factors can be important modifiable risk factors that can support adopted children. For example, the importance of supporting families and parents with the information relating to their child’s previous history and skills in communicating it.
  • Although some factors found in this study were specific to the experience of adoption, many risk and protective factors are similar to non-adopted families. Where specialist care for adoptive families are not available, mainstream practitioners should be trained in the complexities of pre- and post-adoption factors specific to the experience of adoptive families.

 

Read the abstract

Culturally and linguistically diverse children: importance of fostering belonging

Fostering belonging in a CALD school environment: learning from a research collaboration with a refugee and migrant school community in Australia

Authors: Schweitzer R. D., Mackay S., Hancox D.  and Khawaja N. G.

Journal: Intercultural Education

Highlights

  • School belonging is fundamental to the wellbeing and academic success of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) students. While the psychosocial factors associated with belonging have been well articulated, the ways in which schools foster belonging for these populations is relatively unexplored.
  • This paper discusses a research collaboration that investigated ways in which an Australian school, dedicated to the settlement and English language development of newly arrived migrant and refugee children, creates and promote belonging.

Key findings

  • Digital storytelling was used as a research methodology to listen to and learn from the experiences of school staff, students and their families at Milpera school, Brisbane.
  • Three strategies were identified as important to promote the wellbeing of students.
  • One strategy was to promote acculturation. School activities focussing on celebrations of cultures and languages helped students value their own heritage and, at the same time, develop a capacity to understand the values, beliefs and practices of the dominant culture were considered helpful.
  • Secondly, promoting a sense of belonging was found to be important. Activities designed to encourage students to continue to value their heritage and complimenting these with dedicated settlement services coordinated and provided through the school support students to adapt to and feel comfortable in the new Australian environment.
  • Fostering socially supportive relationships and school connectedness can support wellbeing. Examples included close ties developed between school staff and parents (home visits, translated phone calls), in addition to role play programs to help students form friendships.

Implications

  • This study highlights strategies which might be utilised within school contexts that may help promote connectedness and positive wellbeing for CALD students.
  • These strategies were underpinned by a process of belonging, understood in terms of being ‘connected with’. These included significant people, infrastructure, artefacts and cultural representations in the school context which can be drawn upon for educators or practitioners to help support wellbeing for students from CALD backgrounds.

 

Read the abstract

Up Next: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and children: Additional resources, research, and reports

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