April 7, 2021
Losing a parent at any age is a devastating experience. However, when a young child experiences such a major disruption of his or her loving support system, his or her entire future may be put in jeopardy—and that has become one of the harshest realities of the coronavirus pandemic.
Indeed, researchers at Penn State estimate that nearly 40,000 American children have lost at least one parent to COVID-19, Study Finds reports. According to their statistical models, every 13th COVID death in the United States costs a child his or her parent.
And without immediate assistance, many youngsters (some now orphans) are at high risk for prolonged grief and depression, lower educational achievement, and economic insecurity. Even worse, Researcher Ashton Verdery adds that the risk of accidental death or suicide can also rise without proper parental supervision.
“When we think of COVID-19 mortality, much of the conversation focuses on the fact that older adults are the populations at greatest risk. About 81% of deaths have been among those ages 65 and older according to the CDC,” says Verdery, an associate professor of Sociology, Demography, and Social Data Analytics, in a university release.
“However, that leaves 19% of deaths among those under 65—15% of deaths are among those in their 50s and early 60s; and 3% are among those in their 40s. In these younger age groups, substantial numbers of people have children, for whom the loss of a parent is a potentially devastating challenge,” he recently told Study Finds.
The study finds parental death is especially impacting Black families. Researchers estimate that 20% of the children losing parents to COVID are African American. This comes even though Black children only make up about 14% of all youths in the U.S.
Study authors also predict that, in all, the pandemic will send the number of parental bereavement cases soaring by 18% to 20%. This will continue to strain a system the team says already has problems when it comes to connecting eligible children with proper government resources.
“I think the first thing we need to do is to proactively connect all children to the available supports they are entitled to, like Social Security child survivor benefits — research shows only about half of eligible children are connected to these programs in normal circumstances, but that those who do fare much better,” Verdery concludes. “We should also consider expanding eligibility to these resources. Second, a national effort to identify and provide counseling and related resources to all children who lose a parent is vital.”
The study appears in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Research contact: @StudyFinds