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Study: Nearly 1.5 Million Children Lost a Caregiver to COVID-19

July 22, 2021

New analysis publStatistics showing impact of COVID-19 deaths on child bereavement ished in The Lancet this week highlights the lingering fallout from the pandemic, indicating that more than 1.5 million children around the world lost a parent, a custodial grandparent, or other relative who lived with them during the first 14 months of the pandemic.

The study, led by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provides analysis of data across 21 countries. It looks at deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 and indirect causes related to lockdowns and decreased access to health care, among other reasons.

The study highlights the importance of evidence-based programs and services to support children impacted by the loss of a parent or caregiver, said Dr. Susan Hillis, a lead author for the study from the CDC. It evaluates data from March 2020 through April 2021.

"For every two COVID-19 deaths worldwide, one child is left behind to face the death of a parent or caregiver,” Dr. Hillis said in a statement. “By April 30, 2021, these 1.5 million children had become the tragic overlooked consequence of the three million COVID-19 deaths worldwide, and this number will only increase as the pandemic progresses.”

Among the key takeaways from the study:

  • An estimated 1.56 million children experienced the death of at least one parent, a custodial guardian, or co-residing grandparent
  • More than one million lost their mother or father, or both
  • Countries with the highest rates of children losing their primary caregiver included Peru, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Iran, the U.S., and the Russian Federation

The study follows a report in JAMA Pediatrics that estimated between 37,000 and 43,000 U.S. children had lost a parent to the virus by February 2021. Each COVID-19 death leaves 0.078 children parentally bereaved, representing between 17.5 percent to 20.2 percent increase in parental bereavement absent COVID-19, the study found.

“Sweeping national reforms are needed to address the health, educational, and economic fallout affecting children,” the JAMA report notes. “Parentally bereaved children will also need targeted support to help with grief, particularly during this period of heightened social isolation.”

HAP joins organizations drawing attention to this important issue and encourages everyone to take the proper public health precautions to help end this global pandemic. More information about the JAMA report is available online. In addition, the National Alliance for Grieving Children offers resources for children, teens, and caregivers.