Academics donate outdoor clothing for disadvantaged babies and toddlers

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

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Developmental psychologists from Oxford Brookes University and the University of Oxford have raised over £700 to provide outdoor clothing for babies and toddlers in the city.

The clothing, provided at discount by Wet Wednesdays, has been distributed by volunteers from Home-Start Oxford to 70 families who are struggling financially and socially this winter.

Researchers were inspired to act when preliminary data from an ongoing study into the effects of Covid-19 on early development showed that babies and toddlers from disadvantaged backgrounds missed out on outside play during the first UK national lockdown.

Research continues to help children thrive

“We are currently collecting data that will help us to understand the impacts of lockdown on early development, and we are sharing this data with policymakers as it becomes available,” says Dr Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Oxford Brookes University who leads the Social Distancing and Development Study which inspired the initiative.

“Already, our early findings are showing that disadvantaged families are being hit hardest so we wanted to do something practical to help families now.

“The main reason we do developmental research is to aim to help children thrive, so I knew my colleagues would want to help, but I was blown away by how quickly and generously they responded.

“Our community is so important to us. Without them we wouldn’t be able to continue our work at the Oxford BabyLab and Oxford Brookes BabyLab. This is our way of saying thank you.”

Wet-weather clothing helps 70 struggling families

Home-Start Oxford, who have been supporting families in the local area for over 30 years, included the outdoor clothing in their regular door-step drops, along with an Outdoor Mini-Adventures ideas sheet developed by the research team.

Katharine Barber, CEO of Home-Start Oxford said: “We are thrilled by the generosity of the research team and friends, who were determined to make sure their findings led to real change for local families. Many of the parents we support were already struggling with isolation and loneliness before the pandemic, and we have seen this hugely increase.

“The wet weather suits will enable parents to get out with their young children and meet people in a socially-distanced way, whatever the weather, as well as helping ensure that their young children have the play opportunities that are so vital to their development.”

Outdoor play has never been more important

Dr Alex Hendry from the University of Oxford said: “Outdoor play is hugely important for early development. Exercising and exploring in the fresh air helps to promote thinking skills, and is key to good mental and physical health. When playgrounds and many other communal spaces were shut last spring, families without their own garden had limited options.

“This winter, it looks like playgrounds and parks will stay open, but instead, families who are struggling financially are facing other barriers to outdoor play. Finding the extra cash for warm outdoor clothing is difficult when money is tight - especially when you know they’ll have outgrown it by next year.

“Lockdown restrictions also mean that most of the usual ways for parents to build and maintain support networks are unavailable. In this period of heightened isolation and stress, meeting up with another parent outside whilst little ones play has never been so important. We wanted to do something practical to help families make the most of the outdoors this winter.”