More Than 200,000 U.S. Children Have Lost a Parent to COVID-19

According to recent data, more than 200,000 children have lost a parent to COVID-19. These kids may be at risk for traumatic grief, depression, difficulties in school, and unintentional death or suicide.

The death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating, and it's left many children without a parent. According to the Imperial College London, more than 200,000 children under the age of 17 have lost at least one parent due to COVID-19 in America. This is as of March 2022. What's more, more than 5.2 million children have lost a parent worldwide, according to a February 2022 study published in the medical journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

The long-term effects on these children can be just as devastating. Researchers say "parentally bereaved children" are at risk to suffer traumatic grief, depression, difficulties in school, and unintentional death or suicide—all issues that can affect them for many years to come. This is at a time when children and teens have already been negatively impacted by changes the pandemic has brought, including isolation and routine disruptions. A C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health published in March 2021 revealed nearly half of parents noticed a "new or worsening mental health condition" in their teen.

"Considerable research has documented the possible irreversible impact of the pandemic for youth, including the long-term educational, economic, and mental health consequences," Emily Smith-Greenaway, associate professor of sociology and spatial sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the co-author of an April 2021 COVID-19 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, told USC News. "These consequences may be exaggerated among children who have lost family members and can persist for many years, even into adulthood."

Interventions can help prevent these consequences, but they need to come at a national level, researchers say. "Sweeping national reforms are needed to address the health, educational, and economic fallout affecting children. Parentally bereaved children will also need targeted support to help with grief, particularly during this period of heightened social isolation," an April 2021 JAMA report reads.

It continues, "The establishment of a national child bereavement cohort could identify children who have lost parents, monitor them for early identification of emerging challenges, link them to locally delivered care, and form the basis for a longitudinal study of the long-term effects of mass parental bereavement during a uniquely challenging time of social isolation and economic uncertainty."

In the meantime, there are ways parents and loved ones can help their grieving children, even by seeking out virtual help from a professional. Pediatricians and school guidance counselors are also a good place for parents to turn to ask questions and find appropriate help.

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