The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world are ongoing, and many of the virus’s permanent, lasting effects are still somewhat unknown. One consequence we now know more about? Just how many millions of minor children have been without their parents or primary caregivers.
According to a new study by JAMA Pediatrics, which examined the World Health Organization's data on excess mortality through May 2022, an estimated 10.5 million children lost a primary caregiver due to COVID-19 and 7.5 million of those children were completely orphaned by the disease.
Based on those heart wrenching numbers, the researchers of the study are putting an emphasis on the importance of counseling these children through their grief due to the lasting effects of losing a loved one at such a young age. The focus should not just be on preventing COVID-19 deaths but working alongside those who have already lost a loved one from it — especially kids.
“While billions of dollars are invested in preventing COVID-19–associated deaths, little is being done to care for children left behind,” the study begins.
The study says that there needs to be a step-by-step plan put in place to care for these orphaned children “through economic support, violence prevention, parenting support, and ensuring school access.”
The effects of losing a primary caregiver are not just limited to sadness, anxiety or depression — they are often long-lasting and life-altering for the child. Children experiencing orphanhood or caregiver loss face an increased likelihood of poverty, abuse and mental health challenges, among other obstacles, according to the CDC.
“Effective, caring action to protect children from immediate and long-term harms of COVID-19 is an investment in the future and a public health imperative,” the study said.
In the U.S., at least 209,000 children are now without a primary caregiver due to the virus, according to a calculator from Imperial College London.
Grandparents and other relatives have been stepping up to the plate to care for these orphaned children, but often face a challenging future, due to lack of training in how to help a child dealing with trauma and the obvious financial strain from adding a new member to their household.
So, is anything actually being done to help these families? California is considering a bill that would establish trust funds of $4,000 to $8,000 for each of the state’s more than 20,000 pandemic orphans.
When it comes to helping these orphans and families trying to rebuild, there is no time like the present. “If we miss this critical period with children, then they are going to have this burden carried forward,” Rachel Kidman, a social epidemiologist at Stony Brook University, told The Atlantic, “We can’t come back in five years and mitigate their pain. This has to happen now.”