A third of Australian mums experiencing disadvantage have suffered job or income loss as well as high rates of stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study has found.

The research, led by the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) and published in PLOS ONE, found mothers who had to self-quarantine, faced financial hardship, or were under stress from their children's at-home learning reported poorer mental health.

The researchers stated unless the financial and social consequences of lockdown were addressed, the inequities arising from adversity would be exacerbated.  

The study involved 319 mothers living in adversity recruited across Victoria and Tasmania from the right@home trial who undertook a survey during the first 10 months of the pandemic. It found 20 per cent of mothers had to self-quarantine, 27 per cent experienced job or income loss and 40 per cent faced family stress.

A third of mothers reported being moderately to extremely worried about themselves or family members becoming infected and that changes in contact with family and friends had been moderately to extremely stressful for their child. Half felt their child's at-home learning often or almost always made their usual duties more difficult.

But the report noted many also experienced resilience with 49 per cent finding good ways of coping with the stress and 29 per cent providing support to fellow families in their community. 

MCRI researcher Dr Hannah Bryson said the financial and social impacts of Australia's public health restrictions have substantially affected families experiencing adversity and their mental health. 

"Financial hardship impacts parents' ability to pay for essentials and to care for and invest in resources for their children. Additionally, it puts families at greater risk of poor mental health, family violence and child maltreatment," she said.

"Subsequently, poor parent mental health can negatively impact parents' own health, as well as their children's behavioural and emotional outcomes. "Closure of schools and transitioning to at-home learning also appears to be a key contributor to this."  

MCRI Professor Sharon Goldfeld said to recover from the pandemic, the economic and healthcare needs of women and children living in adversity must be prioritised with investment in income support and universal and equitable access to family health services.

"As Australia emerges from lockdown and the pandemic, the disproportionate burden on women and children already living in adversity will need to be addressed with similarly disproportionate service system and economic policy responses," she said.

Researchers from The Royal Children's Hospital, the University of Melbourne, Deakin University, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth and Western Sydney University also contributed to the report.  

Publication: Hannah Bryson, Fiona Mensah, Anna Price, Lisa Gold, Shalika Bohingamu Mudiyanselage, Bridget Kenny, Penelope Dakin, Tracey Bruce, Kristy Noble, Lynn Kemp and Sharon Goldfeld. 'Clinical, financial and social impacts of COVID-19 and their associations with mental health for mothers and children experiencing adversity in Australia,' PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257357

*The content of this communication is the sole responsibility of MCRI and does not reflect the views of the NHMRC.

Available for interview:

Professor Sharon Goldfeld, MCRI Theme Director, Policy and Equity

Media Contact:

Bridie Byrne
MCRI communications specialist                                                                                
+61 457 365 848

About MCRI

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) is the largest child health research institute in Australia committed to making discoveries and developing treatments to improve child and adolescent health in Australia and around the world. They are pioneering new treatments, trialling better vaccines and improving ways of diagnosing and helping sick babies, children and adolescents. It is one of the only research institutes in Australia to offer genetic testing to find answers for families of children with previously undiagnosed conditions.


The right@home program is funded by the Victorian Department of Education and Training, the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services, the Ian Potter Foundation, Sabemo Trust, Sidney Myer Fund, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (Project Grant 1079148). The right@home COVID-19 data collection was supported by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, Morgan Stanley and the Vincent Chiodo Charitable Trust. Research at MCRI is supported by the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Support Program. FM is supported by NHMRC Career Development Fellowship 1111160. SG is supported by NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship 1155290.