A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) estimates that nearly 40,000 children have lost a parent to COVID-19.
Researchers determined, based on an evaluation of family networks and a “parental bereavement multiplier, that the pandemic has left 0.078% children aged 0 to 17 parentally bereaved.” This estimate totals between 37,300 to 43,000.
“Children who lose a parent are at elevated risk of traumatic grief, depression, poor educational outcomes, and unintentional death or suicide, and these consequences can persist into adulthood,” the study’s authors wrote.
“Sudden parental death, such as that occurring owing to COVID-19, can be particularly traumatizing for children and leave families ill prepared to navigate its consequences,” the authors continued.
The study was conducted between February 2020, near the beginning of the pandemic, to February 2021.
“The number of children experiencing a parent dying of COVID-19 is staggering, the researchers wrote. For comparison, the attacks on September 11, 2001, left 3000 children without a parent.”
The study also notes that Black children are disproportionately affected. The authors found that while Black children make up 14 percent of the population, they accounted for 20 percent of children who lost parents to the virus. Still, authors warned of a possible limitation to the study, which relied primarily on demographic modeling instead of data from primary caregivers.
Further, the authors advocated for policy stances to assist bereaved children both now and in the future, especially as leaders form positions on re-opening and future lockdowns.
“Sweeping national reforms are needed to address the health, educational, and economic fallout affecting children,” the authors noted. “Parentally bereaved children will also need targeted support to help with grief, particularly during this period of heightened social isolation.”
More than 555,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19, according to CDC data.
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