Poll: Parents still struggling with COVID aftershocks on children

Many worried about their child's academic performance, mental health


ALMOST HALF of parents across the state remain concerned about their child’s mental health as a result of school disruptions caused by COVID-19, according to a statewide poll conducted by the MassINC Polling Group.

The poll, the sixth in a series sponsored by a grant from the Barr Foundation, surveyed 1,469 parents of K-12 students in Massachusetts, asking respondents about COVID-19 safety in schools and gauging parent satisfaction with the transition back to in-person learning. The poll found 48 percent of those surveyed expressed continued concern about their child’s mental well-being.

“The issues of mental health and academics are intertwined,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, in a virtual presentation on Tuesday of the poll’s results. “They’re intertwined closely; they’re intertwined inextricably.”

When in-person classes resumed last November, parents felt optimistic about their children’s ability to catch up with their grade level. However, parent optimism appears to have waned.

Poll results indicate 22 percent of parents expect their children to be behind grade level by the end of the 2021-2022 academic year, a significant increase from the 9 percent of parents who reported similar feelings in November. Additionally, only 23 percent of parents feel that their children will be above grade level by the end of the year, a 12-point decrease from when parents were asked the same question in November.

Children who are falling behind academically are more likely to struggle with their mental health, and the survey indicates parents believe schools are not offering enough resources for children in need. Seventy-four percent of parents who were worried about a child falling behind grade level reported mental health concerns. Additionally, out of the 48 percent of parents concerned with their children’s mental health, 49 percent reported that schools had not offered their child help.

“When you say 49 percent [of parents] are saying that they don’t have mental health support, that it isn’t offered by their school system, that should shock us all,” said Michael Curry, the CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, one of the four experts gathered on Tuesday to discuss the poll’s findings. Curry also pointed out that “students were dealing with major mental health challenges pre-COVID.”

Curry also noted that the pandemic has affected communities differently. “If you are a lower income Black parent, you’re living in a household that is multigenerational, that is congested, that may have a grandparent or a mother or father living with a comorbidity like diabetes, cancer, maybe immunocompromised,” he said.

Still, there has been a gradual improvement in parental attitudes about the mental health of their children over time. In February 2021, 41 percent of parents reported feeling somewhat concerned about their children’s mental health, and 19 percent reported feeling very concerned. Recent poll results show a moderate decrease in both categories as 34 percent of parents reported feeling somewhat concerned, and 13 percent reported feeling very concerned.

The poll also found that parents with children who identify as English Language Learners and are on an individualized education programs showed increased rates of mental health concerns compared to parents whose children don’t fall into either of those categories.

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Sebastian Jaramillo

Student, Boston University Statehouse Program
Yaritza Rizzo, community organizer at Lawrence Community Works, said that parents who don’t speak English well often just don’t know how they can implement change in their child’s school.

“We find many, many parents that are not aware because there is a language barrier,” she said. “Parents go under the radar because they don’t ask the right questions, and sometimes they don’t think that they are entitled to those resources.”

Curry sees the poll’s findings as a call to action and an opportunity to look deeper into issues that still need to be improved. Adapting a quote by Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African-American female physician, Curry said: “They seem to forget that there’s [cause] for every situation that a student doesn’t achieve and doesn’t thrive, and it may be in our power to remove it or address it.”