How has COVID-19 impacted early childhood and development

“Learning Loss” is something parents and educators are hearing a lot about lately. In Kent County, the numbers show our youngest children are going to need more support due to the stress of COVID-19.

“I’ve watched my children go through a lot these last couple of years. They have seen every adult or family in their life go through some sort of crisis. Every person in our world is trying to make sense of it right now and it is affecting our smallest children,” said Mallory Willenbring, Relationship and Care Coordinator for Help Me Grow Kent.

The first three years of a child’s life are the most foundational for brain development. After age three it becomes much harder to decrease the level of developmental delay. The good news is that with a standardized, reliable screening tool, 70 to 80 percent of developmental delays can be correctly identified early.

The Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3, ASQ-SE) is the most common universal screening tool for early childhood. The screening takes about ten minutes to complete and is done by parents, caregivers, child care providers, and preschool teachers. It is used by pediatricians and in medical clinics across the U.S. and Canada. The ASQ is not meant to be a diagnostic tool, but the results of the screenings provide information about delays that may be present as well as resources to help families get an early diagnosis and intervention.

We asked two of our Ready by Five early childhood navigator partners, Family Futures and Help Me Grow Kent, to look at the ASQ data trends in Kent County over the last few years.

During 2020 and 2021, the top two concerns parents have expressed about their children's development are lagging communication skills and gross motor skills. Other areas of concern include sleeping, social/behavioral skills, fine motor skills, eating habits, and problem-solving.

Historically, most parent concerns focused on infants and one-year-olds, but the biggest increase in the last two years has been concern about four- and five-year-olds. The data has started to show more low scores -- which may indicate a development issue -- among four-year-olds. Fine motor skills were particularly impacted.

“One thought that may contribute to this is that while children were home learning virtually, they likely had more screen time versus less time in an engaging setting with coloring, blocks, and puzzles,” said Willenbring.

Help Me Grow Kent compared Kent County’s scores to ASQ results statewide and found fewer identified concerns locally, except in the area of fine motor skills. Twenty-two percent of the screenings in Kent County over the last year were below the cut-off for normal fine motor development.

In addition to reviewing ASQ scores, the types of programs and support families are requesting from the navigation services give us an understanding of their specific needs. Parents and caregivers are more regularly mentioning behavior and mental health concerns.

During the first years of a child’s life there is an opportunity to identify and address potential social-emotional issues, and that is what the ASQ:SE was designed to do. According to Family Futures, 42 percent of the ASQ SE’s returned so far this year had either a low score or parent concern. Help Me Grow reported that 78 percent of parents and caregivers had concerns about their children's social-emotional health as they navigate the impacts of COVID-19.

Family Futures and Help Me Grow Kent are both funded by the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage.

Family Futures’ Connections program is one way to receive the ASQ Questionnaire in Kent County. Parents can enroll their child(ren) at any point, and the organization sends questionnaires by mail or email during the first five years of the child’s life. Family Futures also helps with navigation support for those who request additional assistance.

Navigators work with families to find the resources that best meet their needs, which could be related to housing, food, child care, or other issues. Families stay with the same navigator over time, and Family Futures tries to match navigators with families based on similar life experiences and specific concerns, whenever possible. A family seeking help with breastfeeding, for instance, may be paired with a navigator who is also a lactation consultant. Having a consistent and relatable navigator has been beneficial so that families can text, ask questions, share photos, and find other ways to stay in close contact.

Help Me Grow Kent is a national model that provides screenings and navigation support. Michigan adopted Help Me Grow a couple of years ago. In Kent County, it is a partnership between the Great Start Collaborative and Kent ISD.

“Whenever a family has a problem, we want to be a resource for them,” said Willenbring. “We approach a child’s development holistically. If a family is experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, or other basic needs, that will affect the child’s wellbeing. Providing the family with what they need will have a positive impact on that child’s development and life.”

Both organizations are available by phone, or website, and have the ability to help families in more than 120 languages.

“As a first-time parent, I have no idea what to do with babies to help with development or skills, or what to do with babies in general!" reported a Family Futures Connections parent. "Google searches are overwhelming because everyone has an opinion. Family Futures has been really helpful as a single source of information that provides simple guidance in accordance with the development needs of my child,” 


  • Reach out to Family Futures
  • Reach out to Help Me Grow Kent
  • What to expect when you make the call or fill out a form: You will receive a phone call from the organization. The Care Coordinators will gather information to learn about your family. They will reach out to discuss results and offer resources that ultimately support the development of your child. They will also provide follow-up and ongoing support in a way that fits your lifestyle.
  • Behavior Health Support in Kent County (This links to all of the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage-funded programs. Use the drop-down to choose behavioral health.)
  • Find Home Visiting Services
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