CDC: Over 140,000 U.S. Children Lost a Parent or Caregiver to COVID-19

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FILE – In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)

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(ABC4) A peer-reviewed study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that over 140,000 children in the U.S. lost a parent or caregiver due to COVID-19. 

The results of the study, which were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on October 7th, were described as “a hidden and ongoing secondary tragedy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The study further quantifies the scale of the situation, saying that roughly 1 out of 500 children in the United States “has experienced COVID-19-associated orphanhood.” 

Researchers found racial and ethnic disparities in the deaths of caregivers from COVID-19. White deaths represented 61% of the total U.S. population while other ethnic groups represented 39% of COVID-19 deaths.

The figures are broken down even further: 1 of every 168 American Indian/Alaska Native children, 1 of every 310 Black children, 1 of every 412 Hispanic children, 1 of every 612 Asian children, and 1 of every 753 White children experienced orphanhood or death of a parent or caregiver.

California, Texas, and New York — states with large populations — had the highest number of children being orphaned by COVID-19. 

A similar study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in July 2021 found that more than 1.5 million children worldwide lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19 during the first 14 months of the pandemic.

“We often think of the impact of COVID-19 in terms of the number of lives claimed by the disease,” Harvard neuroscientist and psychologist Charles A. Nelson III, Ph.D. said, one of the authors of the NIH study.

“But as this study shows, it is critical to also address the broader impact – both in terms of those who have died, and those who have been left behind,” he said.

According to that study, there are “evidence-based responses” that can help children who have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19 to improve their situation:

  • Maintaining children in their families is a priority – This means families bereaved by the pandemic must be supported, and those needing kinship or foster care must rapidly receive services.
  • Child resilience can be bolstered via programs and policies that promote stable, nurturing relationships and address childhood adversity. Key strategies include:
    • Strengthening economic supports to families.
    • Quality childcare and educational support.
    • Evidence-based programs to improve parenting skills and family relationships.
  • All strategies must be age-specific for children and must be sensitive to racial disparities and structural inequalities. They must reach the children who need them most.

The study concludes by saying, “Effective action to reduce health disparities and protect children from direct and secondary harms from COVID-19 is a public health and moral imperative.”

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