Study to look at impact of bushfires and COVID on families

A new study from The Australian National University (ANU) will shed light on the full impact of the 2019/20 bushfires and outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic on young families.

The study follows the ANU research team’s 2020 Mother and Child survey (MC2020) but will focus on the partners of women who were pregnant or gave birth between November 2019 and December 2020.

The survey will ask the partners about their own health and wellbeing, their relationship and their experiences of parenting, providing a snapshot of family dynamics.

Co-leaders of the study, Dr Amita Bansal, Dr Amy Dawel and Dr Liana Leach, said while the role of a partner is critical to young mothers and children, especially in times of crisis, there has been very little research done on the topic until now.

"During our initial study many mothers spontaneously mentioned how important their partner was during the bushfire and pandemic crises," Dr Dawel said.

"We hope our survey will give some insight into how couples can support each other during times of high stress, and also what wider support would be most helpful for families."

The researchers said extreme events such as natural disasters, major conflict and pandemics have been shown to impact pregnancy outcomes and child development, as well as parenting and family wellbeing.

But until now, much of the research has focused on a single point in time, rather than following the family beyond the initial crisis. Past research has also traditionally focused solely on the mother, rather than investigating overall family wellbeing.

"As natural disasters increase in frequency due to climate change, more research to identify the impact on families is critical," study co-leader Dr Amita Bansal said.

"This study will give us a clearer picture of how family dynamics impacted children’s emotional and social behaviour in the wake of the bushfires and COVID-19."

Around 1,000 mothers who participated in the MC2020 study were sent a follow-up questionnaire and invited to share the survey with their partners.

The survey will close in late December 2022, with initial results expected in the first quarter of 2023.

"We specially encourage current partners of our MC2020 mothers to participate because their knowledge will be invaluable when it comes to designing better strategies to safeguard the health and well-being of Australian families," Dr Bansal said.

MC2020 mothers can check their email inbox for details about this study or email the research team on mc2020.mp@anu.edu.au

The Project Officer is Katherine Revius.