10.5 Million Children Lost a Parent or Caregiver to COVID, Study Finds
The new study, co-authored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also found 7,500,000 children were orphaned due to COVID.
A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that at least 10,500,000 children across the globe lost a parent or a caregiver to COVID-19 between Jan. 1 2020 and May 1, 2022.
The modeling study, co-led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), takes into account both primary and secondary caregivers. Primary caregivers include parents or custodial grandparents while secondary caregivers include co-residing grandparents or older kin under the age of 60.
The study also found that 7,500,000 children were orphaned due to COVID, defining orphanhood as a child who lost one or both parents.
The study uses the best available and most conservative COVID-19 excess mortality data published by the World Health Organization (WHO) to update previous estimates. In Oct. 2021, it was estimated 5.2 million children lost a parent or caregiver to COVID.
The CDC says the new data gives a glimpse into the magnitude and long-term potential impacts of the pandemic.
“We know orphanhood and/or loss of caregivers is a permanent condition, one with long-lasting consequences in the wake of such global outbreaks,” said study co-author, epidemiologist, and researcher Dr. Andrés Villaveces. “The most effective way to implement and ensure equitable delivery of evidence-based solutions is to assess the best available data on a granular level in order to identify high-burden countries and populations of children at greatest risk in these circumstances.”
Researchers determined there is an increased likelihood of experiencing orphanhood among children living in countries and regions with lower vaccination rates and higher fertility rates. The greater number of COVID-19-associated orphanhoods due to loss of primary and/or secondary caregivers were noted in Southeast Asia WHO regions (41%) and Africa (24%), in comparison to the Eastern Mediterranean regions (15%), American regions (14%), Western Pacific regions (1.8%) and European regions (4.7%).
The nations most impacted were India (3,490,000), Egypt (450,000), Nigeria (430,000) and Pakistan (410,000). In Bolivia and Peru, one out of every 50 children has lost a caregiver. In the United States, about 250,000 children lost one or both parents.
Susan Hillis, the main author of the study, said losing a parent or caregiver increases the risk of mental health problems, suicide, sexual exploitation, and physical abuse, according to NPR. Julie Kaplow, executive vice president of trauma and grief programs at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, said bereavement is one of the top predictors of poor outcomes at school.
Some countries have put programs in place to support children who have lost caregivers. President Joe Biden issued a memorandum promising that American affected families would be able to access support programs and “connect to resources they may need to help with their healing, health, and well-being.” Some families and communities have received support from federal and local programs such as Resources to Support Youth and Families During the COVID-19 Outbreak and the California Survivor Benefit (CalSurvivor) Program.
While some supports have been put into place, the study’s authors warn not enough is being done to support bereft children. Carolyn Taverner, co-founder of Emma’s Place, which provides grief counseling in New York, told The Washington Post that although resources have been made available in the immediate aftermath, those tend to wane over time and it can take years for children to come to terms with death.
“The problem is that often children take a bit longer to come to emotional realizations about grief and loss,” she said.
The World Bank, an international financial institution that provides loans and grants to the governments of low- and middle-income countries, is looking to provide countries with funding for “cash plus care initiatives,” says Lorraine Sherr, a psychologist at the University College London, and a member of the Global Reference Group.
“That means that you provide the family with a stipend or a small cash injection, but you twin that with care — some kind of social support services, linking to school and education,” she said.
These programs would connect bereaved families with grassroots organizations or nonprofits that can provide mental health care and psychological support to children and the surviving parent or caregivers, says NPR. Similar programs were implemented following the HIV-AIDS crisis and proved to lessen the impact of trauma on children.