An Estimated 40,000 Children Have Lost a Parent to COVID-19, Says Study

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Many children in the United States are dealing with an unavoidable reality: lost a parent due to COVID-19.

Children's lives may be returning to normal after more than a year of the pandemic, as a growing number of people are vaccinated and schools reopen. The pandemic may result in an ever-increasing number of "Covid orphans."

According to a new research letter, approximately 40,000 children have lost a parent to COVID-19, with disproportionately affected black children. It was published last Monday, April 5, in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The research letter described that the number of children who have had a parent die of COVID-19 is overwhelming, with an estimated 37,300 to 43,000 already affected. The research was led by Rachel Kidman of Stony Brook University's Program in Public Health. Researchers also pointed out that disproportionately affected Black children comprise 14% only of children in the US. However, 20% of those losing a parent to COVID-19.

READ: COVID-19 Pandemic Makes Lasting Impact on Parents, Research Says

In the parental bereavement multiplier, which Kidman and co-authors calculated the predicted number of affected children with each death. According to the model, each COVID-19 death affects 0.078 children aged 0 to 17, reflecting a rise of 17.5 percent to 20.2 percent in parental bereavement due to COVID-19.

They point out that, despite the limited bereavement multiplier, it translates to a significant number of children who have lost their parents.

The authors point out that the estimates are based on modeling rather than a survey or administrative data and exclude nonparental primary caregiver bereavement. The number of children who lost both their parents is also not quantified in the report.

Kidman and her co-authors argue that "sweeping national changes" are needed to deal with the pandemic's effects on children. Children who have lost a parent may often need specialized support to cope with their grief. Creating a national child bereavement cohort may also benefit by recognizing and tracking children who have lost a parent to identify emerging problems early.

According to the research letter, "as of February 2021, 37,300 children aged 0 to 17 years had lost at least one parent due to Covid-19," with three-quarters of those being teenagers.

When the authors considered excess losses, they calculated that 43,000 children had lost a parent and that a standard herd immunity approach would be the best option.

ALSO READ: COVID-19 Vaccine: What To Do If You Are Vaccinated, and Your Kids Are Not

A grief that is impossible to bear

Losing a parent may have a long-term effect. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry conducted a seven-year analysis in 2018 that tracked children who had lost a parent and those who had not.

They discovered that people who had lost a parent were more likely to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Depression was most common in the first two years after a loss, particularly among children aged 12 and under. They also discovered that children who had lost parents had higher rates of clinically relevant suicidal ideation.

Child traumatic grief occurs when the cause of death is perceived as horrifying or frightening, making it difficult for children to focus on the suffering itself because they are unable to comprehend how the death occurred.

The sheer number of Covid deaths and the fact that the pandemic is still ongoing make it more difficult, according to Gurwitch.

Children, according to Gurtwich, need to be able to speak freely regarding their loss, find ways to remember the parent still and obtain support and motivation to do so. She also stated that therapies for child traumatic grief are available for those who need them. Many experts advise that you go to talk therapy regularly.

READ MORE: No Early Symptoms of COVID-19 in Children and Teens With Mis-C, Says Research

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