Cassandra Gentry, a grandmother raising two grandchildren (Courtesy of Generations United)
Cassandra Gentry, a grandmother raising two grandchildren (Courtesy of Generations United)

A newly published report reveals that 200,000 children have reportedly lost parents to COVID-19. And as young orphans attempt to cope with such tragic losses, many grandparents have assumed the role of primary caregivers.

The Covid Collaborative coalition estimated that about 167,000 American children lost a parent or primary caregiver to the pandemic, with much higher rates among communities of color.

However, researchers at Imperial College London put the number of children who have lost one or both parents at nearly 200,000.

Generations United, a D.C.-based nonprofit whose goal is to improve the lives of children, youth and older adults, reported that before the pandemic, 2.6 million children already lived with their grandparents.

The group said when a parent dies many grandparents provide childcare, transportation and financial help.

“If something happens to us, what happens to the children?” wrote Cassandra Gentry, a grandmother raising two grandchildren. 

America’s COVID-19 crisis has not ended “but we have begun to count the staggering size of our loss,” researchers at Covid Collaborative revealed in a report called “Hidden Pain: Children Who Lost a Parent or Caregiver to Covid-19 and What the Nation Can Do for Them.” 

“An outbreak beyond precedent has led to deaths on the scale of a global war. Moreover, these tragedies were experienced in the isolation of pandemic precautions and hospital wards,” the researchers stated. 

The group said hundreds of thousands have died simultaneously but largely apart. 

Composed of a diverse and comprehensive team of leading experts in health, education and the economy, Covid Collaborative noted that some of the cruelest pain has come to a group with the least capacity to understand and cope with it. 

More than 167,000 children – roughly one in 450 of all children in the U.S. – have lost at least one of their caretakers to COVID-19. 

Statistics show that non-White children had the highest rates of caregiver loss. 

Nationally, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic children lost caregivers at more than twice the rate 2.4 and 2.5 times, respectively, of white children. 

American Indian or Alaska Native [AI/AN] children and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander children had the highest rate of caregiver loss, at nearly four times the rate of white children. 

Researchers found that those differences are due to higher COVID-19 death rates and larger average household sizes with co-residing grandparents or others being more common among non-white populations. 

“These disparities are most concentrated in the youngest age cohort,” the authors wrote. 

Disparities also varied by state and territory. 

The District of Columbia had the highest rates of Black and Hispanic caregiver loss relative to their white peers – 11 and 18 times higher than the loss rates for white children, respectively. 

States with larger American Indian populations had the highest hidden pain risk of COVID-19 caregiver loss for AI/AN children. 

In Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah, the rate of caregiver loss for AI/AN children was more than 10 times that of white children.

Further, the researchers found that more than 70,000 children have been deprived of a parent with nearly the same number having lost a grandparent who lived in the home. 

At the extreme end, more than 13,000 children have lost their only in-home caregiver. For them, COVID-19 has done more than hurt their lives; it has ended their world. 

Especially early in development, a parent or family caregiver fills a child’s entire sky – providing most of their stability, confidence and care. The sudden, seemingly unexplainable caregiver’s departure leaves a void of affection and direction with which each child must struggle to fill. 

Researchers said the traumatic loss had been associated with depression, addiction, lower academic achievement and higher dropout rates. 

It represents lost potential for individuals and society.

“My client is a 60-year-old grandmother who is taking care of three grandchildren – two of them are her son’s who lost his life to HIV/AIDS while their mother is serving a term in prison for drug trafficking,” said Dr. Liz Jane, a physician who specializes in embryology, pharmacology, immunology, internal medicine and surgery.

Dr. Jane said her client’s other child is the son of a daughter who left home.

“It’s been a tough life for the lady who at times depends on the well-wishers to help her with foodstuff,” she said. “COVID made everything worse when many of her helpers lost their jobs.”

In its report, “Covid 19 Orphanhood,” Imperial College of London officials noted that orphanhood and caregiver deaths are a hidden pandemic resulting from COVID-19-associated deaths. 

“Accelerating equitable vaccine delivery is key to prevention,” the report’s authors stated.

“Psychosocial and economic support can help families nurture children bereft of caregivers and help to ensure that institutionalization is avoided. These data show the need for an additional pillar of our response: prevent, detect, respond and care for children,” they said. 

Based on best evidence and practice, Covid Collaborative officials offered steps that policymakers, educators and leaders in the nonprofit and private sectors could take to help children who have lost a parent to COVID-19.

Their recommendations include: 

The undertaking of a coordinated strategy to comprehensively identify children who have lost a parent or a caretaker guardian to COVID-19 through schools, community-based organizations, primary care settings and the use of municipal administrative records.

Researchers also said it’s crucial to create a COVID-19 Bereaved Children’s Fund and implement a public education campaign to encourage families, youth and children to seek help and connect them to resources in their communities and schools.

Additionally, they said the federal government should provide funding and technical assistance through the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expand the grief-competence of schools, community-based organizations, faith-based institutions and other community leaders.

“When a parent dies, the child is challenged in the short-term to cope with grief and the circumstances of the loss through bereavement,” the report’s authors concluded. “The child must meet this challenge without the lost parent, who may have been a primary resource for structuring their experiences and co-regulating their emotions. Children and families are challenged to adapt in other ways to the parent’s absence in both the short and long terms. However, family functioning must be preserved so that children’s needs continue to be met across development.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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