Supporting Parents and Kids through Lockdown Experiences (SPARKLE)

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Abstract

The first COVID-19 lockdown and continuing restrictions on everyday life have presented families with unprecedented challenges. Extended joint confinement, often within very limited space, isolation from friends and family, increased demands on parents to deliver childcare in face of often increased work demands, mental and physical health-related and money-related worries, have placed relationships between parents and with their children under great pressure. Consistent with this, Co-SPACE, a nationwide study tracking changes in families' mental health since early lockdown, found a significant rise in parent-reported children's behaviour problems and associated family-related stress. Strikingly, 70% of parents in Co-SPACE reported wanting additional support preferably delivered in digital form.

These problems are likely to persist if left unaddressed. There is also widespread concern amongst professionals that they may increase further as the pandemic continues, and with it the restrictions put on people's lives. Families are faced with continuous need to readjust to new routines, structures and challenges. Although children have returned to school and many parents are able to work outside home, many childcare settings are not fully open, and schools have had to make substantial adjustments to comply with the public health measures introduced to curb the spread of the virus.

It seems likely that as the pandemic continues and with it the threat of further severe restrictions, including another lockdown, we will see growing pressures on schools and already over-stretched children's services, as more parents seek additional training, support and advice from professionals. This will further increase the already substantial gap between the need for help and the availability of that help and leave many families without access to vital support. Based on existing research of health inequalities, this is likely to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable sections of society. In SPARKLE, we will examine whether providing families, who have taken part in the Co-SPACE study, with an app delivering information and parenting support, Parent Positive, can reverse negative lockdown-related effects to improve families' wellbeing and reduce pressures on services.

The Parent Positive app is built around a series of 45-second animations presenting eight foundational messages about managing children's behaviour, which have been carefully selected by parents and parenting experts for their relevance to the pandemic situation.They are light-hearted, humorous and non-judgemental in nature and are delivered by eight high-profile celebrities who are also parents. The eight messages relate to: (1) staying positive and motivated (Olivia Colman); (2) making sure everyone knows what is expected of them (Sharon Horgan); (3) building your child's self confidence and trust (Danny Dyer); (4) getting your child to follow instructions (Rob Brydon); (5) promoting better behaviour (Jessica Ennis-Hill); (6) limiting conflict (Holly Willoughby); (7) keeping calm when your kids act up (Romesh Ranganathan); (8) careful use of sanctions (Shappi Khorsandi). The animations will be supplemented with a video offering practical tips on how and when to use the animations, extended and more detailed accounts of each message, links to useful sources of help and downloadable resources, as well the opportunity to network to find peer support.

To test whether Parent Positive can reverse the negative effects of lockdown, 616 Co-SPACE parents will take part in this study. Half the families will be given access to the app and half will not. We will then test whether the app has a positive effect on children's behaviour compared to not using it. If results are positive, the app will be rapidly made available to families across England through collaboration with Public Health England and the Department for Education, in cooperation with commercial media partners.

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