Over the 15-month period of the pandemic, more than 120,000 children in the United States had a parent or caregiver died of Covid-19, a loss that more severely affected racial minorities, according to a model study published in the medical journal Pediatrics on Thursday.
The study estimates that between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, for every four Covid-19 deaths, one child lost a parent or caregiver. The finding suggested that the ongoing pandemic, which has killed more than 700,000 Americans to date, could leave tens of thousands of children struggling with trauma for generations to come.
“It’s not just one in 500 dead; one in 500 American children has lost their mom or dad or grandparents who looked after them, ”said Dr. Susan Hillis, the lead author and researcher and epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in an interview.
In addition to the 120,630 children estimated to have lost a primary caregiver – a parent or grandparent responsible for housing, basic needs and care – 22,007 lost a secondary caregiver or grandparent who owned the home, but does not provide most basic needs, the study predicts. Dr. Hillis said the loss of such grandparents could lead to homelessness.
All children who lose a parent face new challenges that could threaten their development: the lack of an adult to attend to basic needs increases the risk of mental health problems, abuse, unstable housing and poverty, experts said.
“The death of a parent is an enormous loss that can change a child’s life,” said Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in a statement. “We need to ensure that all children have access to evidence-based preventive measures that can help them cope with this trauma and support their future mental health and well-being.”
The study follows an earlier study published in The Lancet in July that found that more than 1.5 million children worldwide had lost a primary or secondary caregiver in the first 14 months of the pandemic.
The new results are in line with research that has repeatedly shown that racial minorities were disproportionately vulnerable to the pandemic.
According to the study in Pediatrics, one in 168 Native American / Indigenous children in Alaska, one in 310 black children, one in 412 Hispanic children, and one in 612 Asian children have lost a caregiver compared to one in 753 white children.
“There is something very broken in our systems, cultures and hearts,” said Dr. Hillis. “We have to come together to fix this. We shouldn’t tolerate that for another day. “
Dr. Hillis warned that the study only ran until June and that the number of caregivers lost “is an ever increasing number and will continue to increase until the pandemic is over”.
Roni Caryn Rabin Reporting contributed.