In February, we were devastated by the headlines announcing the US had reached more than 500,000 deaths due to COVID-19. This week, research findings provide another harrowing reminder of the trauma this pandemic has wreaked on children and families across the country: An estimated 40,000 children have lost a parent due to COVID-19.
Just as Black families were bearing the brunt of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Black children are being disproportionately harmed by this horrific surge in parental death. Despite making up less than 14 percent of the population, Black children make up 20 percent of the children who have lost a parent due to COVID-19. This devastation and loss of loved ones comes during a year also marked by so many visible reminders of anti-Black racism and white supremacy already threatening the health and well-being of our young people.
Along with this immense loss and grief, research has documented the challenges that often come with the loss of a family member, especially a parent. Children grieving the loss of a parent are at greater risk of traumatic prolonged grief, depression, poor academic performance, and economic insecurity. And it’s likely these challenges will be heightened by the pandemic as families are already facing greater economic insecurities and are often isolated from their support systems.
It’s hard to look ahead to a “return to normalcy” when we consider how much the pandemic has disrupted children’s routine, education, and mental health and well-being. We cannot return to a pre-COVID-19 status quo where children continue to be harmed by racism and white supremacy, families struggle to make ends meet, schools are inequitably funded and resourced, and children and families don’t have the support they need. Now more than ever, our children need access to trauma-informed services, counselors in schools, and the equitable supports they need to recover from this devastating year.
Though children are less likely to die from COVID-19, they are not being left unscathed by the loss and grief of the pandemic. Our children must remain the top priority in our response to this crisis.