COVID deaths leave thousands of American children grieving for their parents or primary caregivers: the shots

COVID-19 survivors gather in New York and put posters representing their missing relatives on the wall, in memory of those who died during the pandemic.

Stefan Jeremiah/AFP


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Stefan Jeremiah/AFP

COVID-19 survivors gather in New York and put posters representing their missing relatives on the wall, in memory of those who died during the pandemic.

Stefan Jeremiah/AFP

Of all the sad statistics, the United States has had to deal with this past year and a half, and here’s a particularly difficult problem: A new study reports that more than 140,000 children in the United States have lost a parent or grandparent to the coronavirus. The majority of these children are from racial and ethnic minorities.

“This means that for every four deaths from COVID-19, one child is left without a mother, father, and/or grandfather and provides for the needs and care of the home — such as love, security and daily care,” Susan says. Hillis, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and lead author of the new study.

The study, published Thursday in Pediatrics JournalThe number of losses from April 1, 2020 through the end of June 2021 is estimated at 140,000. Of course that number has gone up in the past three months: Hillis estimates that today that number is around 175,000.

“This number will continue to increase as long as our epidemic deaths increase,” Hillis says.

Once a child loses their parents or primary caregiver, Hillis says, tragedy is something they live with “for the duration of their childhood.”

Hillis points out that this situation calls for urgent action. She says these children need “understanding, help and support”. It is important to “make sure they have a safe and loving family to continue to support and nurture their needs.”

And just as COVID-19 has killed more people in communities of color, children in these communities are hardest hit by the loss of parents and essential caregivers.

“65% of all children with orphans linked to coronavirus or the death of their primary caregiver are from a racial and ethnic minority,” Hillis says. “This is such a severe disparity.”

The study defines orphanhood as the death of one or both parents. The study also tracked the loss of grandparents who provide care.

And if you look closely at the individual groups – American Indian children and Alaskan Native children were 4.5 times more likely to lose a primary caregiver than white children. Black children were 2.4 times more likely to have it, and Hispanic children were twice as likely to have it.

Losing a parent or caregiver in childhood is a major trauma. The study notes that this type of negative childhood experience “may have a profound, long-term impact on children’s health and well-being”.

“Bad childhood experiences are associated with increased risk of every major cause of death in adulthood,” Hillis says.

In the short term, the impact of losing a parent or primary caregiver can lead to children’s mental health crises, including an increased risk of suicide, Hillis says, and “an increased vulnerability to sexual, physical, and emotional violence and exploitation.”

In terms of life outcomes, a body of previous research shows that losing a parent can put children at greater risk of economic, food, and housing insecurity.

This adds a new layer of risks to children in communities of color, who are already disadvantaged.

These communities suffer from unequal access to health care, housing, education and other factors that contribute to children’s well-being, he says Doctor. Warren Ng, a psychiatrist at Columbia University who works primarily with children in communities of color.

“The numbers don’t tell the whole story,” he says. “The full story is really into the lives and impacted futures of these children and teens and their families.”

Mental health care providers who see the effects of the pandemic on children’s mental health say these losses are especially painful. Even the grief has been hard for them, Eng says – many of them couldn’t even see their parents or grandparents in the hospital, or even say goodbye.

“One of the unique things about this pandemic is that it also deprives us of our loved ones, but it also deprives us of our opportunities that come together, so that families can recover, [and] We support each other in order to get through life’s toughest times.”

The study’s authors also call for political action. “What we are suggesting is that there be serious consideration to add a fourth pillar to our response to coronavirus, and that the fourth pillar will be called childcare,” Hillis says.

This includes finding resources and coming up with systems to “find children, evaluate their performance, and connect them to appropriate care,” she said, and promoting economic support for families who take care of children.

Hillis says the data shown here, especially racial and ethnic inequality, “really require an urgent and effective response for all children.”

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