COVID-19 is causing an increase in orphans, according to a study published this month in Pediatrics. More than 140,000 children or one in every 500 children under the age of 18 lost a parent, caregiving grandparent, or someone who provided daily care for the child from April 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.
Further, 65% of the children orphaned in the study were minorities. The loss of a parent or guardian is one of the most devastating experiences and is linked to mental health issues, low self-esteem, lack of school, risky sexual behaviors, violence, increased risk of substance abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, and suicide.
“All of us – especially our children – will feel the serious immediate and long-term impact of this problem for generations to come. Addressing the loss that these children have experienced – and continue to experience – must be one of our top priorities, and it must be woven into all aspects of our emergency response, both now and in the post-pandemic future,” said Susan Hillis, Centers of Disease Control researcher and lead author of the study in a press release.
The study found that White children were least affected, while Native American children were the most affected. The data shows that 1 of every 168 American Indian/Alaska Native children, 1 of every 310 Black children, 1 of every 412 Hispanic children, 1 of every 612 Asian children, and 1 of every 753 White children experienced orphanhood or death of caregivers due to COVID-19. Compared to white children, American Indian/Alaska Native children were 4.5 times more likely to lose a parent or grandparent caregiver, Black children were 2.4 times more likely, and Hispanic children were nearly 2 times more likely to be orphaned due to COVID-19.
“The death of a parental figure is an enormous loss that can reshape a child’s life. We must work to ensure that all children have access to evidence-based prevention interventions that can help them navigate this trauma, to support their future mental health and wellbeing,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, MD.
“At the same time, we must address the many underlying inequities and health disparities that put people of color at greater risk of getting COVID-19 and dying from COVID-19, which puts children of color at a greater risk of losing a parent or caregiver and related adverse effects on their development.”