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March 2022Vol. 23, No. 2What the Nation Can Do to Help Children Who Lost a Parent or Caregiver to COVID-19

report from COVID Collaborative and Social Policy Analytics offers a comprehensive blueprint for multidisciplinary outreach and care—in both the public and private sectors—for children who have lost caregivers during the pandemic.

After providing an estimate of the number of affected children and youth, the report explores the effects that caregiver loss can have regarding child development, the challenges families face to adapt, and the importance of resilience. Its final two sections review potential preventive and clinical interventions to help mitigate some of the negative outcomes from caregiver loss and bolster the resilience of children and families and provide recommendations.

More than 167,000 children have lost at least one of their caretakers due to COVID-19. Of those, more than 13,000 children lost their only in-home caregiver. For these vulnerable children, the traumatic loss of their caregiver can create a grief that echoes throughout their life and lead to mental health challenges, lower academic achievement, and higher rates of substance and alcohol use—all of which can impact our society as well as those children. 

Black and Brown children and families have borne the brunt of this type of loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have faced greater exposure due to their being more likely to be a frontline worker than White individuals and their greater risk of dying due to racial inequities embedded in the U.S. health-care system. As a result, non-White children lost their caregivers at nearly four times the rate of their White peers.

Past studies on grief and other forms of trauma act as a basis for the report's guidance and recommendations. It calls out the following types of support and programs:
  • Group peer-support and grief camps
  • Social and emotional learning in schools
  • Evidence-based mentoring programs
  • Family bereavement programs
  • Trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy
The recommendations focus on creating a multidisciplinary strategy to address the needs of this population, including the following:
  • Identifying children who lost a parent to COVID-19
  • Screening for complicated or traumatic grief in settings like schools and pediatric care
  • Enhancing community-based support for children suffering bereavement due to COVID-19 
  • Increasing and expanding clinical care for children suffering bereavement due to COVID-19 
  • Addressing the economic needs of children who lost a caregiver to due to COVID-19
The report also reveals areas for additional research to support the evidence and better understand the current and future impacts of COVID-19.