UNICEF study reveals impact of COVID-19 challenges on children and families in Jamaica

Representative survey of just over 500 households with children gathered between June and August

08 September 2020
Kayon Haughton and her son Dontree aged 2 in their community of Parade Gardens in Kingston.
UNICEF Jamaica/2020/Sheil
Kayon Haughton and her son Dontree aged 2 in their community of Parade Gardens in Kingston.

KINGSTON, 8 September 2020 – A new study by UNICEF Jamaica, in collaboration with the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI), gives insight on the impact of COVID-19 on households across the island, including detrimental effects on the health, education and protection of children. 

The agencies released preliminary findings of the study today at an online event. CAPRI gathered the research between June and August from three sources – a desk review, interviews with key informants and an island-wide representative survey of just over 500 households with children.

“In any emergency, children are always the most vulnerable – but often we don’t have enough evidence to show the full extent to which they are affected,” said Mariko Kagoshima, UNICEF Jamaica Representative, speaking at the event. “It was critical for UNICEF to conduct this study so that we could examine various ways children are impacted and how the country can respond to better protect them.”

"The pandemic has had detrimental effects on many groups, but surely the most damaging and long-lasting is the effect it is having on children. It is important that we try to understand both the nature and scale of these effects to be appropriately guided in our policy responses," explained Dr Damien King, Executive Director at the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI).

The key findings of the island-wide representative survey point to a range of effects caused by the implications of COVID-19, including households losing their financial safety nets, school closures and restrictions on movement:

Social protection

  • Approximately 80% of households suffered a reduction in income – on average 46% of income was lost, with significantly greater loss (49%) for households in the lower socioeconomic bracket.
  • Most households coped with this loss by using savings (86%) and accepting gifts and remittances from overseas (36%).
  • One in every two households reported only having enough income or savings to sustain them for two or less weeks.
  • Just under 45% of households experienced food shortages due to COVID-19 restrictions. This was felt more acutely in female-headed households (56%) and households with two or more children (57%).
  • Most households coped with food shortages by eating smaller meals (74%) or eating fewer meals per day (66%). 

Education

  • Levels of engagement in distance learning during school closure/remote teaching varied by age group, with children in the pre/basic school age group having the lowest engagement (75%), followed by high school aged students (83%) and then primary/preparatory (90%).
  • The main reasons for children at pre/basic school or primary/preparatory level not engaging in distance learning was because they lacked the facilities. At high school age, the main reason was not having a suitable device (62%) and lacking access to the Internet (18%).
  • In general, over half of the adults who responded on behalf of the households were satisfied with the available distance learning options, with highest satisfaction at primary/prep (70%) followed by pre/basic (60%) and the lowest at high school (56%).
  • One out of 10 respondents said that they were not willing to send their children back to school by September and 3 out of 10 said they were not sure or undecided (32%).

Emotional Health

  • Most households reported increases in children’s level of boredom (63%) and overeating (57%) Other emotions that were elevated (relative to pre-COVID-19) included frustration (41%) clinginess (49%) anxiety (23%) and fear (21%).

Child Protection

  • Just over 40% of the respondents admitted that adults in the household are shouting, yelling, screaming or calling their child names more frequently than they did prior to the COVID-19 restrictions. This includes 20% who said there was a marked increase in these incidents. 
  • Approximately 15% said that children were spanked, hit, or slapped more frequently since the start of COVID-19 and the response measures. 1 out of 20 respondents said that this kind of venting is much more frequent.
  • Children over six years old are reportedly spending, on average, more than twice the time in front of a screen since COVID-19 restrictions began – going from 3.1 to 6.8 hours per day. Thirteen per cent of households reported that their children’s online activity, including the content they view, was seldom or never supervised by an adult.

Other findings:

  • Access to prevention items: Almost two out of every 10 households reported that they did not have enough recommended items for prevention, cleaning and disinfecting (hand sanitizer, gloves, bleach, mask or alcohol), citing the main reason as being unable to afford them (68%) and they are difficult to find (27%).
  • Sources of information: Just under 50% of households used between three and four media platforms as their source of information about COVID-19.  Most households relied on TV (78%,) followed by social media (62%) – excluding WhatsApp and government accounts. Government social media pages were the main source of information for 58% of households, followed by WhatsApp (52%).

The full report from the study will be completed in the last quarter of the year and will include several policy recommendations for actions that the Government of Jamaica can take to reduce and mitigate some of the harmful impacts of the pandemic.

Media Contacts

Allison Brown-Knight
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Jamaica
Tel: 876-618-6268 (office)
Tel: 876-279-8339 (mobile)
Natasha Burnett
Communications Officer
CAPRI
Tel: 876-563-7880

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About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in Jamaica, visit www.unicef.org/jamaica.

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