Children from racial and ethnic minorities were far more likely to lose such a caregiver, the CDC-led team found.
“The findings illustrate orphanhood as a hidden and ongoing secondary tragedy caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and emphasizes that identifying and caring for these children throughout their development is a necessary and urgent part of the pandemic response — both for as long as the pandemic continues, as well as in the post-pandemic era,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which helped pay for the study, said in a statement.
National Center for Health Statistics data through June showed children of racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 65% of those who lost a primary caregiver, while White children accounted for 35%, even though minorities account for just 39% of the US population.
Secondary caregivers included mostly grandparents who provided love, security, or basic care, researchers said.
Worst hit were kids in Southern border states, where Hispanic children accounted for anywhere between 50% and 67% of affected children.
In southeastern states, up to 57% of affected children were Black, and in states with tribal territories, American Indian/Alaska Native children accounted for up to 55% of kids who lost a parent or other primary caregiver to Covid-19.
“Beyond parents, grandparents are increasingly indispensable, often providing basic needs. In the US from 2011 to 2019, 10% of children lived with a grandparent and in 2019, 4.5 million children lived with a grandparent providing their housing. Black, Hispanic, and Asian children are twice as likely as White children to live with a grandparent,” the CDC’s Susan Hillis and colleagues wrote.
“Loss of parents is associated with mental health problems, shorter schooling, lower self-esteem, sexual risk behaviors, and risks of suicide, violence, sexual abuse, and exploitation,” they added.
“Yet, there is hope. Safe and effective vaccines can stop Covid-19-associated orphanhood and death of caregivers from negatively impacting children and families.”
Even losing one parent or grandparent can be devastating for children, especially those in marginal situations where they stand to lose their homes, be abused or simply fall into poverty.
“Children facing orphanhood as a result of Covid is a hidden, global pandemic that has sadly not spared the United States,” Hillis said in a statement.
“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,” Hillis added.
The researchers said government need to pay close attention to the affected children.
“We must ensure children who have lost a parent or caregiver have access to the support services they need, and that this additional impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is comprehensively addressed in both our rapid response and our overall public health response,” said Charles Nelson, who studies the effects of adversity on development at Boston Children’s Hospital.