One Thing Leads to Another: Financial hardship, family well-being and the impact on young children

The Center for the Study of Social Policy is pleased to feature a post by guest blogger Joan Lombardi, a national and international early childhood expert and relentless champion for innovative approaches to ensuring children’s healthy development and family well-being. Joan’s work is rooted in the understanding that children and their families thrive as part of strong, responsive, nurturing communities. In today’s post, Joan calls for immediate federal action to extend and expand benefits to support families with young children during the pandemic.                           

As we reach mid-summer, the heat map of the virus spread is heavy on our minds, the country is debating school openings, and tensions are mounting. For too many families, the lack of childcare and the impending loss of benefits is compounding stress and undermining family well- being. We are hearing news reports from coast to coast of the impact COVID-19 is having on the health and financial hardship of families. 

How is this affecting young children? Decades ago, Urie Bronfenbrenner taught us that children are affected by families and families are impacted by the community and the policies that surround them. The impact of the pandemic and the lack of sufficient supports for families have provided an alarming example of this basic principle. Unfortunately, the situation could get worse.

Over the past three months, the RAPID-EC study team from the University of Oregon has continued to document the negative impact the pandemic is having on families with young children. Week after week, report after report, families respond to the survey and the evidence mounts. The findings this week are particularly disturbing. The RAPID-EC study reported that there is a “hardship chain reaction” as the financial strain and uncertainty of meeting basic needs negatively affects caregiver well-being, which in turn adversely effects the emotional health of young children.

Young children experience hardship directly through less access to food and heightened sensitivity to conflict. They know when the adults around them are stressed. Everyday disruptions undermine their sense of security, safety, and joy. When that stress is prolonged, the negative and long-term consequences on the developing child grow.

Parents with limited financial resources carry the heaviest burden. Based on earlier results, the RAPID-EC team found that roughly 20 percent of those surveyed reported having a hard or very hard time paying for the basic needs like food, housing, medical care, and heating. Using census data, they estimated that approximately 2 million households with young children are experiencing financial hardships.  

These young children don’t get the chance to relive the spring and summer of 2020. There is no “do over.” In the closing days of this month, policymakers can either act to stem the tide of financial hardship and provide hope to families or turn away, compounding the impact and jeopardizing the futures of millions of our youngest children.

Basic needs cannot wait; members of Congress need to act now to:

  • Expand support for state and local public health protections and family supports;
  • Continue unemployment and economic stimulus funding;
  • Extend food supports such as SNAP benefits and allow moratoriums on evictions; and
  • Provide paid leave and emergency childcare assistance.

Families with young children are running out of time. The moment to act is now.


  1. Bronfenbrenner, Urie (1979) Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Ecology of Human Development, Harvard University Press.
  2. RAPID EC, July 20, 2020

Joan Lombardi, Ph.D. directs Early Opportunities LLC, a philanthropic advisement service focused on the development of young children, families, and the communities that support them. Read more here.