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Parents of SEN/ND children suffering high levels of stress during COVID-19 crisis

Stressed woman

The COVID-19 epidemic is causing particular stress to the parents of children with special educational needs and neurodevelopmental disorders (SEN/ND), a major new study has found.

The 5000-participant CO-SPACE Study – led by experts at the University of Oxford – aims to track children and young people’s mental health throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Its latest interim report revealed that the parents of children with SEN/ND are experiencing higher levels of stress than any others, across all areas other than work. In total, more than two thirds (68.2%) rated their child’s wellbeing as being the most significant stressor, compared to 50.4% of parents overall.

The vast majority of respondents whose children previously received support – whether for mental health, emotional or behavioural difficulties, and from social services or educational support – stated that the support had now been stopped or postponed, including for over 80% of those with SEN/ND children.

Experts have warned that SEN/ND children who rely on school for more than education are at risk without complex care, leaving little respite for parents.

Professor Cathy Creswell of the Departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford said, “Our results are showing some hotspots of concern, particularly for parents of children with special education needs and neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Among all parents, work was the main stressor, with 53.1% stating that it was causing them either ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ of stress.

And, despite government aid to mitigate the risks facing families during COVID-19, including guidance for parents and carers on supporting their child’s education, and free meal vouchers, parents also expressed concern over their child’s education, screen time and getting hold of food.

Children’s worries related to COVID-19 are also on the rise, with over 80% of parents reporting that their child thought COVID-19 was a very serious issue, and almost half reporting that their child was concerned about family and friends catching the virus.

Further anxiety in children was related to missing school or work, catching the virus themselves, transmitting the infection, leaving the house, food, money, long-term job prospects and the economy.

The data is being shared with the study’s partners in the Emerging Minds research network in order to help policy makers and organisations offer better support to families during the epidemic. It is also being used to directly inform the resources the study team is itself developing on the Emerging Minds website, including a webinar series aimed at parents, carers and anyone supporting families during COVID-19.

Creswell concludes, “This study is so important to understand the experiences of families currently and how this crisis is impacting on them, but also so we can know how best to support families going forward.”

The work of CO-SPACE can’t continue without your help. If you are a parent or carer of a school-aged child in the UK, find out how you can take part in its crucial research here.

Read the full CO-SPACE report

Image: Kittiphan/