During the COVID-19 pandemic scientific research shifted rapidly to assess how changes to daily life was affecting individuals. A largely understudied group was that of young children in early childhood. In response to this, the COVID-19 in the Early Years project was developed by UNBC’s Dr. Caroline Sanders, and Dr. Chelsea Pelletier in the fall of 2020. This study sought to understand how various changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have affected the early years (0-8) population of Northern BC through the perspectives of parents. The study intended to explore how the pandemic has affected families’ engagement with and access to healthcare, early years education, and other providers whilst investigating how this leads to changes in the physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being of parent and child. In examining these gaps in care, we hoped to also understand what adaptations or modifications to services have worked, and what could be improved upon to best serve this age group.

10 participants located across Prince George, B.C. were recruited for the first phase. Entry and exit interviews were conducted as well as a 6-week data collection period where participants were instructed to capture their day-to-day life. They could do this using a number of data collection methods including journaling, photography, poetry, art, supplemented by a tablet participants were given to assist in data collection.

Through data analysis 3 key themes emerged that were affecting family life: 1) gaps in healthcare services, 2) gaps in early childhood education services, and 3) lost social interactions. Each of these key themes created stress in family life, left parents wondering how their child’s development would be affected, and were perceived as affecting the family’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Additionally families identified unsuccessful (i.e. lack of free resources, missing connection with healthcare providers), and successful (i.e. convenient telephone appointments, home-visits) features of COVID-19 adapted health care and early years programming.

After our pilot phase, our participants expressed interest in continuing to share their families stories. Combined with the constantly changing regulations, and social response to COVID-19 there was a need to continue the work. Thus, we extended our pilot project to include a follow-up portion of 3 interviews over a 6-month period, beginning in May of 2021 and currently ongoing. As well as developing a Phase 2, expanding to include more families across BC, to include a larger age range (0-8), as well as children with diverse support needs. Further we established an Early Years Advisory Table to operate during Phase 2 to ensure the study is informed by important perspectives from the individuals this research concerns, including parents, providers, and family support organizations. This phase is set to begin recruitment in fall of 2021.