BCHCP research faces minimal impact from the pandemicJanuary 25, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than two million people worldwide, put extraordinary pressure on mental health (especially that of children), and affected the financial wellbeing of frontline workers — cleaners, grocery store clerks and other essential services.
But it also has an impact on other areas, including that of researchers. The BC Healthy Connections Project (BCHCP) — a scientific evaluation of the Nurse-Family Partnership program (NFP) — has been fortunate that the pandemic has resulted in only minimal effects.
“We are lucky that all of our in-person work was finished before the first lockdown, says BCHCP Scientific Director Dr. Nicole Catherine, referring to the order by Dr. Bonnie Henry in March 2020. “If this pandemic had occurred before we’d been able to complete our in-person research interviews with children, our data would have been seriously affected.”
While some of the visits to study participants could have been conducted by phone, observing the cognitive skills of children would have been close to impossible.
The study — a randomized controlled trial — was launched in October 2013. The study team followed 739 families until all 737 children had reached their second birthday, by November 2019.
The aim of the study is to determine how NFP, an intense nurse-visiting program for young, disadvantaged families, compares with existing health and social services in British Columbia.
Upon notice of the first lockdown, researchers at Simon Fraser University began working from home. Similar to other researchers around the world, they met via Zoom or telephone. Team members could get access to some protected data only by going into their offices and they received special permission to do that, from time to time.
Since the start of the pandemic, the team has published a paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Open, showing that delivery of NFP led to a reduced prenatal use of cannabis and, a modest reduction in cigarette use by smokers.
The team is continuing to analyze the data, currently looking at whether NFP has reduced childhood injuries, as well as improving child mental health and development by age two years. “We will know the results later this year,” Dr. Catherine says.