Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

A clear correlation has been detected between child orphanhood and COVID-19 deaths.

A recent American Academy of Pediatrics study found that from April 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, there have been over 140,000 children who experienced the death of a parent or grandparent caregiver. Minority children made up 91,256 of the children who lost their primary caregiver and white children made up 51,381 children who lost their primary caregiver.

Until the pandemic becomes fully controlled, Dr. Susan Hillis, Centers for Disease Control [CDC] researcher and lead author of the study, says rates will continue to rise and with the numbers increasing since the study began. In record time, the number has risen to nearly 175,000 children who face orphanhood due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Certainly we care about every child who is facing COVID-19-associated orphanhood. Every one of them is important,” Dr. Hillis said. “By the end of June there were more than 140,000 children that had been impacted. This is basically for every four COVID-19 deaths a child is left behind without a mother or a father or the grandparent who owned or paid the rent in the house and provided their needs.”

The study states that children whose caregivers have died from COVID-19 have a possibility of experiencing “intensified trauma and may have an immediate need for kinship or foster care at a time when the pandemic restrictions may limit access to protective services.”

Hillis suggested a fourth pillar called “Care for Children” be added to the COVID-19 response. This pillar has a three-pronged approach to prevent, prepare and protect. The prevent pillar serves to prevent the death of parents and caregivers by supporting vaccine equity. The prepare pillar would create support for family-based alternative care which would help children who have lost their caregivers. The last part seeks to protect children with evidence-based interventions that strengthen positive parenting and protect children who have a surviving caregiver alongside having economic support and educational growth.

Disparities continue within the ongoing issue of orphanhood among children with minority children being more likely to have a death of a caregiver due to COVID-19. The study found that even though whites account for 61% of the U.S. population, white children make up 35% of children who lost a caregiver due to COVID-19. This lower percentage stands in contrast with other ethnic racial groups who make up lower percentage rates of the total population but have higher orphanhood rates due to COVID-19. The study estimates that “ethnic minorities account for 65% of children losing primary caregivers, compared to 39% of the total population.”

The pandemic has hit minority communities in disproportionate ways holistically. The findings of the study address how children are impacted beyond contracting the illness itself. It’s estimated that one-of-753 white children have experienced death of a caregiver (parent or grandparent) and one-of-168 American Indian/Alaska Native children have experienced the death of a caregiver.

There’s also a disproportionate loss for racial and ethnic minority children when it comes to the loss of their caregiver with factors that contribute to this discrepancy. The study outlines how there remain “structural and social determinants of health, such as discrimination, neighborhood environment, barriers in access to healthcare, occupation, educational gaps, economic instability, living arrangements and unstable housing.”

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