Parents Recognize the Child Health Crisis but Find Barriers to Taking Action - Action for Healthy Kids
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Parents Recognize the Child Health Crisis but Find Barriers to Taking Action

January 28, 2021

In January 2020, we wanted to get a pulse on parents and caregivers thoughts about the health issues their children face, so we did a nationally representative survey of 1,000 parents and caregivers of kids in Pre-K through 8th grade. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and upended the entire school system in America, we conducted a follow-up survey in August. Despite differing – and changing – health priorities for their kids, the results tell the story of parents who recognize the child health crisis but aren’t sure how to take action.  

Key results:

  • 92% of parents/caregivers say children face more challenges to their health and well-being than they did ten years ago. 
  • 75% say their children currently face issues regarding their health and well-being. 
  • Nearly two-thirds of parents notice impediments to their kids getting enough sleep, proper nutrition, and physical activity. Hispanic parents were more likely to report this than non-Hispanic parents. 
  • The top health concerns among parents/caregivers are bullying (34%), social media and screen time (30%), and mental and emotional health (27%). 
  • Kids have a strong influence: 76% of parents/caregivers report changing their own habits based on something their child told them about health and well-beingHispanic parents were more likely to report changing their habits than non-Hispanic parents. 
  • 86% of parents worry COVID-19 has negatively impacted their child’s well-being. Key issues include lost social connection (50%), lost academic progress (44%), fewer activities (39%), and missed meals (15%). 
  • During the pandemic, lack of physical activity increased the most as a concern, and bullying decreased the most. Screen time and mental, social, and emotional health remain the biggest concerns. 
  • 85% of parents say they’ve struggled during the pandemic, primarily with their own emotional health (43%), balancing their kids’ needs with their own (43%), and maintaining healthy family routines (42%). The numbers are higher (60%) for low-income parents and caregivers struggling with their own mental and emotional health. 

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Interestingly, the results of our surveys also highlighted that despite the above concerns, many parents face barriers to actually getting involved. Despite 86% of parents wanting to give input on addressing health issues in school, 72% of parents have decided against raising concerns. Reasons why include not being asked or invited to offer input, time constraints, work obligations, and uncertainty of how to do so. Low-income parents are nearly twice as likely to report not being asked for input by their school. Given how important parental involvement is for student health, that 72% is one statistic we aim to shrink through our work building family-school partnerships. If you’re ready to get involved in this crucial work, sign up to join our movement and get started using the resources and tips below.  

Resources to get started:

Tips for parents: 

  • Introduce yourself to school leaders and ask questions. What are your school’s and district’s priorities and practices related to student health, and how would they like families to provide support?  
  • Talk to other parents. Gather perspectives and ideas from other families.  
  • Set aside preconceived notions about how school and school district staff think and why they work in a certain way. Instead, ask and listen.  
  • Don’t be afraid to voice concerns or offer to help however you can. Talk with teachers and staff, volunteer, and attend meetings and events. Ask or suggest ways to get involved that can work with your own schedule (e.g. from home, at night) and your abilities.  
  • Don’t make assumptions—learn how things work. Take advantage of learning opportunities and ask questions, then communicate your concerns clearly in a constructive, non-judgmental way. Approach conversations in a spirit of collaboration. 

Tips for schools:

  • Create a warm and welcoming environment that shows parents their input is desired, respected, and valued. Ask parents about their lives and concerns and validate their expertise.  
  • Offer options for two-way communication channels so parents can ask questions and share opinions (e.g., texts, emails, phone calls, video conferences, in-person meetings).  
  • Set aside pre-conceived notions about how parents think, what they know, and how they want to be involved. Instead, ask and listen. Learn about the values and specific challenges parents in your community face.  
  • Conduct meetings primarily in the language of the majority of participants and/or provide quality interpretation for parents or staff who do not speak the same language.  
  • Communicate the school/district vision and priorities clearly and transparently and provide parents with clear information about how school and district departments function, set policy, and make decisions. Also share school and district policies, goals and plans related to student health. 

Check out snapshot of key findings from the surveys or view the full research report hereThere’s no such thing as a bad time to get involved and start partnering with your child’s school to improve your kids’ and community’s health, but the new year provides the perfect opportunity to make sure it’s a priority and mitigate the problems that last year made worse.  

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