Deaths associated with COVID-19 have deprived more than 140,000 American children of a caregiver, and children of color have been disproportionately affected, according to a new estimate published Thursday by a team of international researchers, including members of CDC’s COVID Response.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, estimated that 142,637 children lost a primary or secondary caregiver, with the highest loss of primary caregivers in California, Texas and New York. The hardest affected were New Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico, adjusted for their child populations.
Overall, the study found that one out of every 515 children has lost a caregiver.
The report counts the deaths of those who contracted COVID and those who didn’t have COVID but died as an indirect result of the virus, for instance, because they lacked access to health care services. Researchers analyzed U.S. mortality data from April 2020 through June 2021 and examined what they deemed “excess deaths,” calculated as the difference between average monthly deaths from 2015-2019 compared to 2020-2021.
Children of color were more affected than others. While more than half of COVID-associated deaths occurred among White people, nearly seven in 10 children facing the death of a caregiver as a result of these deaths were children of color. California lost two-thirds of its primary caregivers were Hispanic. The New Mexico share of American Indian and Native Alaskan children who lost their primary caregiver was nearly triple that of the total population. In southern states, Black children accounted for a greater percentage of caregiver deaths than the share of whites.
Nationally, 1 out of every 168 American Indian and Native Alaskan children experienced the death of a parent or grandparent caregiver, compared to 1 out of every 753 White children. Dr. Susan Hillis,
Lead author says these findings point to a hidden pandemic. She said that her nightly worry about whether non-governmental and federal organizations could have done more to help these children kept her up at night.
“When you are in an emergency and your house is burning, it is natural to ask yourself, “What do I immediately do to help people?” She said. Hillis wants the agency to include another COVID pillar, one that is focused on protecting orphans and protecting those who have lost a caregiver.
Ed Kelly’s family says the lack of available health care was a major factor in his death in January when he died of a heart attack just eight hours after going to an urgent care clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, with chest pain. His widow Sunni says he chose to not go to the hospital even though clinic staffers recommended it, fearing he could contract COVID-19. His sudden death has left a gaping hole in the life of Sunni and her three daughters, including 16-year-old Kate who says she’s struggled to talk about the pain she’s felt and is angry over what she’s had to cope with.
” “I have been mad about the fact that my father has died,” she stated. She said, “Anger is the only thing I have been feeling all this time.”
Supporting these children presents new challenges for child welfare advocates, especially after health officials and political leaders have struggled to contain the most recent fourth wave of infections and hospitalizations fueled by the more transmissible Delta variant.
Losing either a primary caregiver or secondary caregiver can have a variety of adverse health consequences, such as lower self-esteem and suicide risk, as well violence. These factors are more prevalent in Native Alaskan and American Indian communities.
Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy, National Indian Child Welfare Association said that it is crucial that tribes are given the freedom to provide immediate care for children who have experienced grief and to do so in a culturally sensitive manner.
” We need to reduce the dependence of tribal nations on other states and countries to provide certain of their services, and to increase their capacity to fulfil their sovereign nation responsibilities,” he stated. Although tribes have the ability to and do exercise these duties and provide many services, it is often difficult for them due to their limited resources and inability of providing these services within their own communities.
The study authors suggest that these children be helped by economic and financial support. Sunni stated that it has been hard to pay the constant stream of bills since her husband lost his income from two different jobs.
” I’ve seen the kids struggle with that due to my stress,” she stated, noting that Ed had provided family health insurance. It gets complicated when you lose your health insurance and are now responsible for paying the mortgage.
Kate is hopeful that more attention will be paid to how children cope with the loss of their parent and caring takers.
“They have to cope with the pain of losing their parent, even though they are not being physically harmed by the illness,” she stated. I feel orphans deserve that recognition.
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