A research agenda to understand the short- and long-term mechanisms and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children.

Understanding the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on US children, families and communities is critical to (1) documenting the scope of the problem, (2) identifying solutions and mitigating harm and (3) building more resilient response systems. 


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In the early stages of the pandemic, between June and October 2020, the network facilitated a series of virtual meetings for representatives from MCHB-funded maternal and child health research networks to develop a maternal and child health COVID-19 Rapid Research Agenda. The results of this process have now been published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal and have been made open access online as part of the Nature Public Health Emergency Collection.

Investigating the impacts of COVID-19 on children’s mental health and ways to address them emerged as the highest research priority, followed by studying resilience at individual and community levels, identifying and mitigating the disparate negative effects of the pandemic on children and families of color, prioritizing community-based research partnerships, and strengthening local, state and national measurement systems to monitor children’s well-being during a national crisis.

Research Questions

  • What are the long-term physical impacts of COVID-19 on children’s physical health, mental health, and resilience?
  • What are the mechanisms through which differences in susceptibility to COVID-19 are operating?  How can they be addressed?
  • What are the long-term impacts of the pandemic response (i.e. shut down of schools, economic collapse, etc.) on children’s mental health and developmental trajectories? 
  • How does COVID-19 affect developmental and life transitions, particularly for adolescents and the transition to adulthood? 
  • How do we promote health and well-being and provide support to children and adolescents? How can we use new technologies for health promotion?
  • What are the special challenges/risks/opportunities for children with special healthcare needs?
  • What makes some children more resilient and how do we build resilience against future threats? 
  • How do we engage parents, children and youth in the research process to promote their mental health, sense of self, agency and positive health development and well-being?
  • How is COVID-19 impacting family functioning and development? How does this differ for special populations, such as immigrant families, those with non-English-speaking parents, and families and caregivers of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities?
  • What resources do families need to maintain their health and well-being? Are those resources available and equitably distributed? What are the greatest needs/gaps? Do these differ for families of color? If so, why?
  • What are the impacts of COVID-19 on existing disparities (educational, health, economic, homelessness) and how can we support communities to address disparities and mitigate impacts? 
  • How can communities build resilience and engage youth in identifying and testing interventions?
  • What are the short- and long-term impacts of remote learning on children and adolescents, particularly those with special needs/IEPs? 
  • What resources are needed to safely re-open schools and what are the risks and benefits to children and society associated with in-person versus distance learning? 
  • How can we use this opportunity to transform school culture to focus on whole-child development? 
  • How do we meet/support immediate mental health, physical health, and childcare needs?
  • How do we build systems that will be more responsive and resilient to future pandemics/other threats? 
  • What strategies might be needed to adjust the federal Medicaid match and advance tiered/bundled payments based on the whole child/family needs considering physical, mental, social and relational health risk?
  • How can build or adapt measurement systems to study the impact of the pandemic on children and families?

Approaches to Research

Enacting this research agenda will require engaging the community, especially youth, as equal partners in research co-design processes; using anti-racist research methods; and adopting a “strengths-based” approach. New collaborative funding models and investments in data infrastructure are also needed.

For Researchers:

  • Use anti-racist research methods including adopting community-based participatory research methods; studying the explicit role of racism and structural inequities; and addressing structural racism in the research ecosystem
  • Activity engage youth, families, and communities in identifying their most pressing questions and needs and co-designing research and interventions
  • Adopt a strengths-based approach to understand factors that make families and children more resilient
  • Focus on health equity and opportunities to close equity gaps when applying for funding and publishing results, even if it’s not the primary focus of the research
  • Search for transformative approaches involving transdisciplinary research teams, a complex systems perspective, and new methods that can help produce a more nuanced understanding of what is happening at the individual, family, and community levels in response to the pandemic
  • Explore new partnerships based on common goals, without geographic barriers thanks to now-common technology advancements


For Funders:

  • Activate new funding streams, such as COVID-19 supplements or mini-grants to support immediate research needs and new collaborative efforts
  • Support collaborative research platforms to facilitate the implementation of this agenda and accelerate the dissemination and translation of findings into policy and practice


For Policy Makers and Health Systems:

  • Strengthen ongoing data collection on children’s well-being.
  • There’s a critical need for more robust data systems focused on children’s well-being that are embedded in national, state, and local infrastructure.
  • De-identified longitudinal data from electronic health records could be used to study trends and address some of the research questions. This data could also be linked with public health and other administrative data sources related to the social determinants of health (e.g. housing, employment, food, education) to provide a more complete picture of child and family well-being.
  • Child Well-Being Data Support Grants could help to develop partnerships between researchers and state and local data repositories to integrate and expand well-being data.


For Research Institutions:

  • Adjust faculty advancement criteria to recognize and support the time commitment needed to conduct community-based participatory research to address this COVID research agenda. This will require support from the highest levels.
  • Formally compensate and recognize the work of BIPOC scholars who are disproportionately engaged in the critical work of improving justice, equity, diversity and inclusion within the research system and with research participants.
Access the Full Research Agenda
Full Article


This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under award U9DMC49250, the Life Course Translational Research Network. The information, content, and/or conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS, or the US Government.