The final report from the first round of the COVID-19 early year's resilience and impact survey (CEYRIS) shows that the pandemic and its associated restrictions had a negative impact on most young families in Scotland, particularly those who were already experiencing challenging circumstances due to income, family composition or family health.

Public Health Scotland ran the survey in June-July 2020 to find out how children in Scotland aged 2–7 years had been affected by the pandemic just as Scotland was moving out of a period of national lockdown. The survey covered key behaviours, children’s play and learning, use of outdoor spaces and social interactions, and the experience of parents and carers during COVID-19 in Scotland.

Analysis shows:

  • Children in poorer households experienced poorer psychological and emotional wellbeing during lockdown than children in more affluent households.
  • Children in lower-income households, single-adult households and large families took part in fewer home learning activities less often.
  • Children from low-income households, single-adult households and large families had fewer visits to the park or other greenspace.
  • Parents of children with a long-term health condition needed access to more services during lockdown, and in some cases were unable to access them.
  • Parents in lower-income households and parents of children with a long-term condition experienced poorer mental health.

The lack of access to a private garden or outdoor space for some families is an issue that predates COVID-19, but made living through the pandemic much harder. Similarly, lower-income families may have experienced more household stress, but a further reduction in income as a result of lockdown is likely to have made this worse.

Debby Wason Public Health Intelligence Principal at Public Health Scotland (PHS) said:

"Coping with the restrictions has been a vastly different experience depending on who you ask. People who were already experiencing social inequalities and other challenges have fared worst.

"Although children are less likely to suffer the direct health consequences of Covid-19, they are more likely than others in the population to experience the effects of the pandemic on their development, health and wellbeing. Children have been less able to enjoy outdoor play, and have had to spend less time with family and friends from other households. Many parents will have had to juggle working at home with homeschooling; in some circumstances, amidst the added stress of income reduction and even unemployment.

"These findings have the potential to guide how our public services work together to respond sensitively to what our children have been through, as they prepare to support them to return to ELC and P1-P3 this week. Doing this will bring societal and public health benefits, leading to better futures for this generation of children."

PHS continues to work with others in government, local government, in the third sector and in our communities, to monitor the impact of the pandemic in Scotland and provide evidence to support ongoing measures and action to protect the health and wellbeing of everyone in Scotland.

For more information, read the COVID-19 Early Years Impact and Resilience Study (CEYRIS) Briefing paper.

Last updated: 06 October 2022