New York – A new study suggests that the number of American children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be higher than previously estimated, and the toll has been far higher among black and Hispanic Americans.
According to the study, more than half of the children who lost a primary caregiver during the pandemic were from the two racial groups, which make up about 40% of the US population. Published Thursday by the medical journal Pediatrics.
Dr Alexandra Blenkinsop from Imperial College London, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement: “These findings really highlight the children who have been left most vulnerable to the pandemic, and where additional resources should be directed “
The study found that during the nearly 15 months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 120,000 American children lost their parents or grandparents, who were the primary providers of financial aid and care. Another 22,000 children experienced the death of a secondary caregiver – for example, a grandparent who provided housing but not the child’s other basic needs.
FILE – Funeral attendants load the coffin of a man who died after contracting COVID-19 at the East County Morgue on January 15, 2021 in El Cajon, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
In many cases, the surviving parent or other relative remained to provide for these children. But the researchers used the term “orphanhood” in their study because they attempted to estimate how many children had grown in life.
Federal figures are not yet available on how many American children went into foster care last year. Researchers estimate that COVID-19 has caused a 15% increase in orphans.
The numbers in the new study are based on statistical modeling that used fertility rates, death statistics and household composition data to make estimates.
An earlier study by various researchers estimated that around 40,000 US children had lost their parents to COVID-19 by February 2021.
The findings of the two studies are not inconsistent, said earlier study author Ashton Verdri. Verdry and his colleagues focused on a shorter time period than the new study. Vardry’s group also focused only on the death of a parent, while the new paper also captured what happened to the caring grandparents.
“It is very important to understand the loss of grandparents,” Verdri, a researcher at Penn State, said in an email. “Many children live with grandparents,” living arrangements more common among certain racial groups.
Of all children who lost a primary caregiver, about 32% were Hispanic and 26% were black. Hispanics and blacks make up a much smaller percentage of the American population than that. White children were among 35% of children who lost primary caregivers, even though more than half the population was white.
The differences were more pronounced in some states. In California, 67% of children who lost primary caregivers were Hispanic. The study found that in Mississippi, 57% of children who lost primary caregivers were black.
The new study bases its calculations on excess deaths, or more deaths than usual. Most of those deaths were from the coronavirus, but the pandemic has resulted in more deaths from other causes as well.
Georgia teenager Kate Kelly lost her 54-year-old father in January. William “Ed” Kelly had difficulty breathing and an urgent care clinic suspected it was due to COVID-19, she said. But it turns out he had a blocked artery and died of a heart attack, leaving Kate, his two sisters and his mother.
In the first month after his death, friends and neighbors brought groceries, donated and were very helpful. But after that, it looked like everyone moved on except Kate and her family.
“It’s like not helping at all,” said Lilburn’s high school junior.