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How many US children have lost a parent to COVID-19?

Data and Metrics Families

TL; DR. About 40,000 children (ages 0-17) in the US have lost a parent to COVID-19.

Today, we interview Nerdy Guest Dr. Rachel Kidman to discuss her recent research on this topic.

Dr. Kidman is an Associate Professor at Stony Brook University and teaches in their Program in Public Health. She is a social epidemiologist with fifteen years of research experience focused on vulnerable children and adolescents. She currently leads an NIH-funded project to examine the role of childhood adversities on the emergence of HIV risks during adolescence in rural Malawi. She also directs an NIH-funded study to estimate the impact of violence on HIV transmission using mobile diaries among HIV-infected and non-infected male adolescents in Soweto, South Africa.

Q. How many children have lost a parent due to COVID-19?

A. We estimate that about 40,000 children (0-17) had lost a parent by February, 2021 due to the COVID pandemic in the U.S. This amounts to one child losing a parent for every 13 COVID deaths. Moreover, we know the burden of mortality is not shared equally: there are strong racial and economic disparities. And so not surprisingly, we found that orphanhood is disproportionately experienced by children of color. While black children make up about 14% of kids in America, they accounted for 20% of those who lost a parent to COVID this year.

Q. Are there special needs or concerns for these surviving children?

A. From past studies, we know children who are orphaned face immense challenges – from depression to poor educational outcomes – and these reverberate throughout their lives. We have reason to worry that suffering the sudden loss of a parent during such an acute and unique national crisis will exacerbate these challenges. Right now, many families are grieving in isolation. Many kids aren’t in school. Families are under immense economic pressure. We don’t fully know what the impact will be on their mental and physical health.

Q. What can we do to help meet the needs of children who have lost parents?

A. Right now, we need to be paying attention to their social and emotional needs. I believe these children need schools to be open so they can socialize with friends and be supported by caring adults. Those adults – teachers, social workers, guidance counselors and others – are our first line of support for kids. I am heartened that the new relief package contains financial resources to help schools open safely. Children will also need immediate interventions that can help them deal with their grief and can prevent more severe mental health consequences. Some will need sustained mental health support in the years to come.

Often the best way to support bereaved children is to strengthen their families’ ability to care for them. To that end, their families need economic relief. In the U.S., new federal policies – such as expanding the child tax credit – will help raise some families out of dire poverty, especially when combined with Social Security benefits. Many families may not realize they qualify for the latter; we need to proactively reach out to these families to sign them up. And moving forward, policy makers could consider adding bereavement to family leave policies, making sure caregivers can be there when grieving children need them most.

Washington Post: Covid-19 has killed the parents of thousands of children. We must support them.

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