Over 120,000 American Children Have Lost a Parent or Caregiver to Covid-19, Study Says

Amethyst, 5, and a portrait of her father, Erin Tokley, a Philadelphia police officer who died from Covid-19 in March.Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

New York Times – October 2021

Author: Daniel Victor

New findings showed wide racial disparities among those whose caregivers had died during the pandemic.

Over a 15-month period of the pandemic, more than 120,000 children in the United States had a parent or caregiver die from Covid-19, a loss that more severely affected racial minorities, according to a modeling study published in the medical journal Pediatrics on Thursday.

The study estimated that for every four Covid-19 deaths between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, one child lost a parent or caregiver. The finding suggested that the ongoing pandemic, which has claimed more than 700,000 American lives thus far, could leave tens of thousands of children dealing with trauma for generations to come.

“It’s not just one of 500 are dead; one of 500 American children have lost their mommy or daddy or grandparents who took care of them,” Dr. Susan Hillis, the lead author and a researcher and epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview.

In addition to the 120,630 children who were estimated to have lost a primary caregiver — a parent or grandparent responsible for providing housing, basic needs and care — 22,007 lost a secondary caregiver, or a grandparent providing housing but not most basic needs, the study projected. Dr. Hillis said the loss of such grandparents could lead to homelessness.

All children losing a parent would face new challenges that could threaten their development: The lack of an adult taking care of basic needs increased the risk of mental health problems, abuse, unstable housing and poverty, experts said.

“The death of a parental figure is an enormous loss that can reshape a child’s life,” Nora D. Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a statement. “We must work to ensure that all children have access to evidence-based prevention interventions that can help them navigate this trauma, to support their future mental health and well-being.”

The study follows a previous study, published in The Lancet in July, that found that more than 1.5 million children worldwide had lost a primary or secondary caregiver during the first 14 months of the pandemic.

The new findings aligned with research that has repeatedly demonstrated that racial minorities have been disproportionately vulnerable to the pandemic.

According to the study in Pediatrics, one of every 168 American Indian/Alaska Native children, one of every 310 Black children, one of every 412 Hispanic children, and one of every 612 Asian children have lost a caregiver, compared to one in 753 white children.

“Something is very broken in our system and our cultures and hearts,” Dr. Hillis said. “We must come together to fix it. We should not be willing to tolerate that for another day.”

Dr. Hillis cautioned that the study ran only through June, and that the number of lost caregivers “is a constantly growing number, and will continue to grow till the pandemic is over.”

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