FAPESP and the Sustainable Development Goals

Cross-border consortium investigates long-term effects of pandemic on children and young adults

Cross-border consortium investigates long-term effects of pandemic on children and young adults

The aim of the study is to understand the strategies used by children and young people in low-income households to adapt to the public health crisis and economic hardship in the UK, South Africa and Brazil (photo: Freepik)

Published on 08/07/2023

By Maria Fernanda Ziegler  |  Agência FAPESP – An international team of researchers is investigating the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of children and young adults aged 10-24 in Birmingham and the West Midlands (United Kingdom), Mangaung and Moqhaka (South Africa), and Paraisópolis and Heliópolis, neighborhoods of São Paulo city (Brazil). 

In the four-stage study, the researchers will analyze how economic and political responses to the public health crisis, combined with the adaptive capacity of young people and their families living in low-income neighborhoods, modulated everyday matters such as access to education, leisure and food, and the dreams of these individuals.

“Life after the pandemic isn’t the same. Hardly anyone came through unscathed. For youngsters, who were initially thought to be less affected by COVID-related health problems, the impacts of the pandemic are already part of their lives and will be long-lasting,” said Leandro Giatti, principal investigator for the study in Brazil. He is a professor at the University of São Paulo’s School of Public Health (FSP-USP).

The other members of the consortium, besides the University of São Paulo (USP), are University College London (UCL) and the University of Birmingham in the UK, and the University of Free State (UFS) and the University of Fort Hare (UFH) in South Africa. The group receives funding from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF) and FAPESP

There is no shortage of examples of sudden changes in the life courses of people in this age group. They include the boy who was doing well at school and dreamed of becoming a physician someday but had to drop out to help his parents pay the bills, and the girl who was indifferent to community issues in Paraisópolis but became a street president and a political leader during the pandemic.

“The changes imposed during the pandemic won’t be reversed, and the losses can’t be recouped. Food is the most obvious deficit, but there were significant losses in education and leisure as well, and these will affect young people’s learning, social life and future opportunities. It’s a matter of grave concern and needs to be better understood by policymakers. We must use this knowledge to prepare for future crises,” Giatti said.

In addition to gleaning more data on how children and young adults were affected by the pandemic, the project will also investigate the adaptive capacity of this social group in the urban context, which changed drastically. In Paraisópolis, for example, alongside the creation of a community support network, which includes street presidents, the biggest school became a shelter for patients with symptoms of COVID-19 who required isolation.

To understand young people’s adaptation strategies, the study uses action research methodology, with qualitative interviews and participatory workshops. “We’ve already established that almost all the interviewees had a good grasp of the need for special precautions to avoid spreading the virus and for a collective response to the crisis. However, most required support and had to help their parents, ignoring the lockdown rules imposed in the most acute phases of the pandemic,” Giatti said.

Another preliminary finding of the survey conducted in Paraisópolis and Heliópolis relates to school dropout rates. “In contrast with what we expected, we found that lack of equipment or internet access wasn’t the main reason for dropping out of school. Some of them had access to iPads and broadband. The big problem was lack of support at home and lack of the right conditions for studying. Their homes are small, with shared rooms and insufficient privacy. In addition, they had to do paid jobs to help pay the household’s bills,” he explained.

Four stages

In the first part of the project, the researchers issued a report entitled “The Impact of COVID-19 on Education, Food & Play-Leisure and Related Adaptations for Children and Young People: International and National Overviews”, based on published research into the effects of the pandemic.

With regard to school closure, the global average was 142 days fully closed and 151 days partially closed, according to the report. Uganda closed schools for 83 weeks, the longest of any country. The figure for Brazil was estimated at more than 40 weeks, which affected vulnerable students’ access to school meals and increased the dropout rate. South African children lost about 46% of their school time in the first two years of the pandemic, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

As for food, hunger or the need for assistance and food distribution increased in both South Africa and Brazil. In 2022, 125.2 million Brazilians belonged to households with some degree of food insecurity, and more than 33 million went hungry (14 million more than at the time of the same survey in 2020). Severe food insecurity practically doubled (from 9.4% to 18.1%) in households with children aged 10 or less.

Little consideration was given to children’s welfare during the pandemic apart from the impact on education. Play and leisure were forgotten or sidelined. In Spain, children were “totally incarcerated” by being confined to their homes for six weeks, the report says. Many other countries imposed similar lockdowns, although precise statistics are not available.

In the second stage of the study, which is nearing completion, the researchers interviewed representatives of institutions, non-governmental organizations, government agencies and other actors who work with vulnerable young people in poor neighborhoods.

Stage three will consist of a qualitative survey of young adults, and stage four will feature workshops with talks by youth organizers and institutions to share experiences and discuss what could have been better for participants in the UK (West Midlands), South Africa (Mangaung and Moqhaka), and Brazil (Paraisópolis and Heliópolis).

“We plan to hold a cross-border debate about youth in major cities, with the aim of highlighting the most significant experiences for these communities during the pandemic. The changes were very sudden and will have permanent effects. The participatory approach implemented in this project will pinpoint many issues overlooked by surveys that only result in statistics,” Giatti said.

Image from Freepik


Source: https://agencia.fapesp.br/42083