A staggering number of children lost their parents during the pandemic. Nearly 40,000 American youngsters suffered the loss of at least one parent to COVID-19 according to a new report published Monday by JAMA Pediatrics.
According to CBS News, the study stated that “children who lose a parent are at elevated risk of traumatic grief, depression, poor educational outcomes, and unintentional death or suicide.” The authors of the study said that these consequences can carry on into adulthood. They added that sudden parental death, such as the victims of COVID-19, “can be particularly traumatizing for children.”
The study model projects that if we do get another surge of the virus, as many experts predict, COVID-19 may kill as many as 1.5 million in the U.S. before we reach herd immunity, leaving 116,900 “parentally bereaved children.” About 75% of these would be adolescents, according to CBS News.
“I think the ripple effect is going to be very traumatic and I think these kids deserve extra support,” said Dr. Dyan Hes, a leading pediatrician and founder of Gramercy Pediatrics. “This is going to be huge, because what studies show also is that African American children are disproportionately affected by the loss of a parent.”
The study found that 20% of Black children lost at least one parent during the pandemic, although they account for only 14% of the total U.S. population.
“Sweeping national reforms are needed to address the health, educational, and economic fallout affecting children,” said the researchers, per CBS News. “Parentally bereaved children will also need targeted support to help with grief, particularly during this period of heightened social isolation.”
They warned, “The burden will grow heavier as the death toll continues to mount.”
Dr. Hes said that finding a qualified grief counselor for children can be a challenging task as not every therapist is equipped to deal with this type of counseling. She emphasized that the burden of grief weighs heavily on the entire family during these difficult times.
“You have kids who are at home with one parent with the economic burden of not having two parents working perhaps, or out of work during COVID,” she said. “Now you’ve lost a parent, and you are sitting at home on a screen with a teacher, and you have nobody to talk to and you can’t hug somebody.”
The study researchers from Stony Brook University, the University of Western Ontario, Penn State University, and the University of Southern California said that COVID-19 inflicted between an 17.5% to 20.2% increase in parental loss over non-pandemic circumstances.
By factoring in both direct and indirect loss of parents to COVID-19, the authors say that the number of parentally bereaved children in the U.S. rose to more than 43,000 according to U.S. News & World Report.
The researchers said they found the numbers “staggering.”
“During this really unique, strange time that we’re in right now, where you aren’t grieving with others, you can’t sit shiva, you don’t see your friends on a regular basis — we don’t really know how that’s going to impact kids,” said lead researcher Dr. Rachel Kidman, Ph.D., a social epidemiologist whose work focuses on the experiences of children and youth living with adversity. She said that returning to in-person schooling may help these grieving children by giving them a chance to socialize with their friends, and be supported by caring adults and counselors, according to U.S. News & World Report.
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