Highlights in child mental health research: May 2021
Various, Australia, May 2021
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?
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) and children: Resources, research, and reports
- Parenting interventions enhance the child-parent relationship and early child development
- To differing degrees, sex, ethnic and socioeconomic differences shape emotional symptoms among children
- Impacts of COVID-19 on parents and children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
- Culturally specific risk and protective factors for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child/youth suicide
What’s new this month in child mental health research?
This month’s highlights include:
- Parenting interventions to promote early child development in the first three years
A global systematic review of the evidence on the impact parental support programs have on early child development. A review of 102 trials in 33 countries found that parenting interventions improved early child cognitive, language, motor skills, socioemotional development, attachment and reduced behaviour problems. However, parenting interventions vary significantly, and further evaluation is needed to inform effective delivery.
- Sex, ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities and trajectories in child mental health
This study investigated the role of gender, ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in the emotional difficulties of children aged 5 to 14 in the UK and Australia. The impact of gender and socio-economic status differs between countries but in both, parents of children of white Caucasian heritage faced less stresses than culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander parents report the highest average level of stress compared with other groups. Understanding country and context-specific drivers of different inequalities could help reduce disparities in child and adolescent mental health.
- How is COVID-19 impacting on the mental health and wellbeing of children with special educational needs and disabilities and their carers?
Using data from 241 parents or carers of children, the study found that COVID-19 has increased overwhelm, loss, worry and changes in mood and behaviour. Suggestions to support parents and alleviate stress include ongoing specialist professional advice on how to meet the child’s educational and mental health needs, explain difficult news and maintain ongoing (online) social contact.
- Suicide rates for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: the influence of community level cultural connectedness
This study examined the effects of community level, culturally specific risk and protective factors for child/youth suicide. The study found that the suicide rate among young people was lower in communities where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had greater engagement with cultural events, ceremonies, and organisations, and where discrimination was less prevalent. Neither Indigenous language use nor socio-economic resource level significantly influenced suicide rates.
Parenting interventions enhance the child-parent relationship and early child development
Parenting interventions to promote early child development in the first three years of life: A global systematic review and meta-analysis (US)
Author: Jeong, J., Franchett, E.E., Ramos de Oliveira, C.V., Rehmani, K., Yousafzai, A.K.
Journal: PLoS Medicine
- This systematic review looks at the evidence on the impact parental support programs have on early child development.
- Findings were based on analysis of 102 randomized controlled trials of parenting interventions for children during the first 3 years of life and across a total of 33 countries.
- Parental support to help teach children during the earliest years of life can help promote early child development.
- Parenting interventions improved early child cognitive, language, motor, socioemotional development, attachment patterns and reduced behaviour problems.
- Parenting interventions improved parenting knowledge, parenting practices, and parent–child interactions. However, they did not significantly reduce parental depressive symptoms.
- The effect of parenting interventions on the cognitive development of the child was 3 times greater in low- and middle-income countries versus high income countries.
- Responsive parenting (family interactions in which parents are aware of their children’s emotional and physical needs and respond appropriately and consistently) was identified as important.
- Parenting interventions that included content on responsive caregiving had significantly greater effects on child cognitive development, parenting knowledge, parenting practices, and parent–child interactions than interventions that did not include content on responsive parenting.
- Research suggests parenting programs have global relevance although the form and content of interventions can change according to socio-cultural and economic contexts.
- Future research should unpack the different components of parenting programs to identify the association with outcomes to inform improved delivery, effectiveness, and scale of parenting interventions for early child development.
- Substantial variation in program content and implementation characteristics make is difficult to draw on one model.
To differing degrees, sex, ethnic and socioeconomic differences shape emotional symptoms among children
Sex, ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities and trajectories in child and adolescent mental health in Australia and the UK: findings from national prospective longitudinal studies (Australia and UK)
Author: Terhaag, S., Fitzsimons, E., Daraganova, G., Patalay, P.
Journal: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
- This study investigated the role of sex, ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in the emotional difficulties of children aged 5 to 14.
- Data from 19,748 participants in two contemporary nationally representative samples in Australia (Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, n = 4,975) and the UK (Millennium Cohort Study, n = 14,773) were used.
- The relationship between inequality and mental health are not the same despite data coming from two English-speaking, high-income, industrialised countries.
- Girls experience greater difficulties in adolescence, particularly in the UK.
- Australian children with unemployed parents had significantly higher emotional symptoms, but this was not the case for UK children where there was no difference by parent’s unemployment.
- The study used the term “ethnic minority” and “ethnic majority” to assess disparities in mental health of those who have Caucasian heritage (ethnic majority) and those who do not (ethnic minority).
- In the UK, children of ethnic minority have better mental health than their Caucasian majority peers in adolescence, whereas in Australia both children had similar emotional symptoms.
- In both countries, parents of children from Caucasian backgrounds faced fewer stresses than parents of children from culturally linguistically diverse communities.
- Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander parents report the highest average level of emotional stress for themselves and their children across all ages compared with other groups.
- Understanding country and context-specific drivers of different inequalities (e.g. cultural and economic differences, differences in levels of discrimination and victimisation) could be part of reducing disparities in child and adolescent mental health.
- In Australia, specific programs are needed to alleviate the stresses faced by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander parents.
- Understanding context-specific explanations for differences (e.g. differences in racial discrimination and bullying victimisation) might help identify targets to prevent inequalities.
Impacts of COVID-19 on parents and children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
How is COVID-19 affecting the mental health of children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families? (UK)
Authors: Asbury, K., Fox, L., Deniz, E., Code, A., Toseeb, U.
Journal: Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders
- 241 parents or carers of children aged 5-18 (median of 9 years) with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) described how the coronavirus outbreak has affected their mental health and the mental health of their child.
- The study found that children with SEND and their parents are experiencing increased overwhelm, loss, worry and changes in mood and behaviour due to COVID-19.
- Of the parents/carers who provided data, 92% were mothers and 63% earned less than the approximate UK median income (£44,000).
- A majority of parents/carers described that loss of routine, support network and structures, specialist input and, for a minority, financial stability had a significant impact on their wellbeing.
- Losses were amplified in families whose SEND children could not always understand COVID-19 and related changes.
- For a minority of parents with children who had school related anxieties, COVID-19 has had little impact on mental health in their family, or has led to improvements because the child feels safe at home.
- The level of worry many SEND families report appears to be substantial and serious.
- Frequently mentioned suggestions to support parents and alleviate stress included specialist professional advice for parents on how to meet the child’s educational and mental health needs and continued access to specialist appointments.
- Help is required for parents to understand appropriate tasks and resources for home learning and providing opportunities to see familiar faces remotely.
- The study did not include a comparison group of neurotypical children and their families which makes it hard to draw direct conclusions about the specific needs of families with SEND children and further research is needed.
Culturally specific risk and protective factors for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child/youth suicide
Suicide rates for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: the influence of community level cultural connectedness (Australia)
Authors: Gibson, M., Stuart, J., Leske, S., Ward, R., Tanton, R.
Journal: The Medical Journal of Australia
- This study examines the effects of culturally specific community-level risk and protective factors for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child/youth suicide.
- Suicide mortality data were derived from the Queensland Suicide Register (QSR) for Queensland young people aged 10–19 years.
- Cultural connectedness was assessed using data published by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS). Data on demographic, social, cultural, and environmental indicators, including language, cultural activities, social networks, support, health, and wellbeing were included.
- Suicide rates have been persistently higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than for other Australians with 12 times as many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under 15 years of age dying by suicide as other young Australians.
- The suicide rate among young people was lower in communities where First Peoples had greater engagement with cultural events, ceremonies, and organisations, and where discrimination was less prevalent.
- Neither Indigenous language use nor socio-economic resource level significantly influenced suicide rates.
- Strategies for increasing cultural connection and engagement and for reducing discrimination should be developed to reduce the number of First Nations young people who die by suicide.