A sober COVID19 statistic: 140,000 children without their caregiver

Most COVID19 deaths occur among adults, so a lot of attention has been focused on mitigating risks for them. However, that doesn’t mean kids won’t be impacted for years to come. Undue burden has been placed on kids, with the most detrimental being orphanhood.

Two days ago the journal of Pediatrics published a sobering study assessing the impact of adult COVID19 deaths on kids. Specifically, scientists estimated how many kids were orphaned or lost a caregiver from April 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021 due to COVID19 pandemic. To answer this, they pulled data from multiple sources: excess deaths and COVID-19 deaths, birth certificates, and the US Census.

To define this cohort of children, the authors used the United Nations definition of orphanhood: death of one or both parents. Losing one parent has increased risks of mental health problems, abuse, unstable housing, and household poverty. They also estimated primary caregiver deaths, which included at least one parent or custodial grandparent. Secondary caregiver deaths included a co-residing grandparent or kin.

So, what did they find?

  • 120,630 children in the U.S. experienced death of a primary caregiver

  • 22,007 children experienced death of secondary caregivers

  • Children in racial/ethnic minority groups experienced death of a primary caregiver more often than Non-Hispanic White children (91,256 vs 51,381).

  • States with the largest populations had the highest number: California (16,179), Texas (14,135), and New York (7,175)

It’s important to note that this study was before Delta. The first author, Dr. Susan Hillis, told NPR that the current estimate is closer to 175,000 kids who have lost a caregiver.

And this wasn’t the first study to discover this

In July, the Lancet published a study assessing the global rate of orphanhood due to COVID19. From March 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021, they estimated 1,134, 000 children experienced the death of primary caregivers.

  • Peru had the highest rate (10.2 per 1000 children), followed by South Africa (5.1), Mexico (3.5), Brazil (2.4), Colombia (2.3), Iran (1.7), and USA (1.5).

  • Between two and five times more children had deceased fathers than deceased mothers

Long term impact

Orphanhood and caregiver loss can result in profound long-term impacts on health and quality of life. It’s even considered an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)— an entire field of inquiry where scientists investigate how exposure to negative events in childhood impact development and well-being decades later. Previous research has shown that loss of a primary or secondary caregiver can impact kids in many ways:

  • Loss of a parent → mental health problems, less schooling, lower self-esteem, sexual risk behaviors, and risks of suicide, violence, sexual abuse, and exploitation.

  • Loss of caregiver →housing instability, separations, and lack of support

  • Loss of secondary caregiver → loss of psychosocial, practical, and/or financial support

Bottom Line: For every 4 pandemic deaths, 1 kid was orphaned or lost their caregiver in the United States. Go get a vaccine if you’re still unvaccinated. Your decision not to get vaccinated can directly effect others around you, including your kids.

I know I’ll be hugging my girls extra tight today.

Love, YLE