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Estimated 40,000 children have lost a parent to COVID-19

April 5, 2021

Editor’s note:For the latest news on COVID-19, visit http://bit.ly/AAPNewsCOVID19.

Researchers estimate 40,000 children in the U.S. have lost a parent to COVID-19, a tragedy disproportionately impacting Black children.

The team called for national efforts to support these children, especially as they face increased hardship and isolation during the pandemic.

“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,” authors wrote in a research letter published today in JAMA Pediatrics.

To calculate the parental losses, the team created a statistical model taking into account the number of deaths from COVID-19 since February 2020 and demographics of those who have died. They determined about one in every 13 deaths resulted in a child under 18 losing a parent.

As of February 2021, there were 479,000 recorded deaths. When deaths indirectly linked to the pandemic are included, that figure grows to 552,000. Using their statistical model, researchers determined roughly 37,000 to 43,000 youths have lost a parent. About three-quarters of those experiencing parental loss are adolescents.

The losses are about 18% to 20% higher than a typical year, according to the letter. Authors also noted disparities in the deaths, estimating Black children experienced about 20% of the losses but only 14% of the population.

During the pandemic, children may not have access to their usual support network of family members, friends, teachers and counselors, researchers said. They called for evidence-based interventions and national reforms.

“I think the first thing we need to do is to proactively connect all children to the available supports they are entitled to, like Social Security child survivor benefits — research shows only about half of eligible children are connected to these programs in normal circumstances, but that those who do fare much better,” co-author Ashton M. Verdery, Ph.D., said in a news release. “We should also consider expanding eligibility to these resources. Second, a national effort to identify and provide counseling and related resources to all children who lose a parent is vital.”

The AAP has been concerned about the emotional toll the pandemic is having on children and adolescents and has called on pediatricians to screen patients for such issues. It has developed in-depth guidance that is available at https://bit.ly/3hFb7fj.

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