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Pandemic Highlights Need for Measuring Kids' Social-Emotional Health

Research shows that social-emotional health has a significant impact on children's academic success and well-being. (Adobe Stock)
Research shows that social-emotional health has a significant impact on children's academic success and well-being. (Adobe Stock)
May 21, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. -- COVID-19 is affecting children's social and emotional health, but experts say there's a gap in data when it comes to understanding what factors influence how children manage their emotions and build relationships.

Mary Mathew, collaboration and policy leader for the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, says measuring children's social-emotional health at the population level is complex.

Her organization has released a set of recommendations for helping the state figure out ways to do so.

She adds that research shows healthy social and emotional skills help children manage stress and stay resilient in challenging times.

"COVID-19 is one of those challenging times, and it's really going to have an impact on children's social-emotional health," Mathew states. "In order for North Carolina to really know how to best support children and families and their children's social-emotional health, what they really need to know is how children in North Carolina are doing in this area of development."

The NC Early Childhood Action Plan, put in motion by Gov. Roy Cooper and the state Department of Health and Human Services in 2018, has set a target for developing a reliable set of measures for young children's social-emotional health by 2025.

Dr. Debra Best, a Duke University pediatrics professor, says pediatricians can be a resource for families when it comes to gauging a child's social-emotional health, noting that health care providers see children at least 13 times by their third birthday.

"One in four children are at risk for developmental delay, and so the universal early childhood screening that we do within a pediatric practice really provides an opportunity to identify delays early and to intervene with appropriate supports during what really is the most critical period of child development," she states.

The state's criteria should take into account differences across racial, cultural and socio-economic lines, according to Sheresa Blanchard, an assistant professor of human development and family science at East Carolina University. She says a child's behavior is closely linked to his or her home environment.

"We may be measuring something that a child has not been exposed to, or that may not be valued by that child's family or culture," she points out. "And so, you have to think about what the norm is for your community."

The report released by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation calls for an investment in resources that minimize racial and cultural bias in screening, and for creating tools that better describe children's social-emotional strengths, and not just focus on deficits.

Disclosure: North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Education, Livable Wages/Working Families, Women's Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC