More than 120,000 American children lost a parent or other caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic

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(NEW YORK) – The number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic could be greater than previously estimated, and the number of Black and Hispanic Americans was far higher, according to a new study.

According to the study published Thursday by the medical journal Pediatrics, more than half of the children who lost a primary caregiver during the pandemic were among these two racial groups, which make up approximately 40% of the US population.

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“These results really highlight the children who have become most vulnerable to the pandemic and where additional resources should be directed,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr. Alexandra Blenkinsop of Imperial College London, in a statement.
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In the 15 months of the nearly 19-month COVID-19 pandemic, more than 120,000 U.S. children lost a parent or grandparent who was the primary provider of financial assistance and care, the study found. Another 22,000 children experienced the death of a secondary caregiver – for example a grandparent who provided housing but not the other basic needs of a child.

In many cases, surviving parents or other relatives stayed to care for these children. But the researchers used the term “orphanage” in their study to estimate how many children’s lives have been turned upside down.

Federal statistics on how many U.S. children were placed in foster care last year are not yet available. Researchers estimate that COVID-19 led to a 15 percent increase in orphaned children.

The numbers in the new study are based on statistical models that used fertility rates, death statistics, and household composition data to make estimates.

A previous study by various researchers estimated that by February 2021, around 40,000 US children would have lost a parent to COVID-19.

The results of the two studies aren’t conflicting, said Ashton Verdery, an author on the earlier study. Verdery and his colleagues focused on a shorter period of time than the new study. Verdery’s group also focused only on parent deaths, while the new paper also covered what happened to caring grandparents.

“Understanding grandparents’ losses is very important,” Verdery, a researcher at Penn State, said in an email. “Many children live with their grandparents,” a way of life that is more common among certain racial groups.

Approximately 32% of all children who lost a primary caregiver were Hispanic and 26% were Black. Hispanic and black Americans make up a much smaller percentage of the population. White children made up 35% of children who lost their primary caregiver, even though more than half the population is white.

In some federal states, the differences were much more pronounced. In California, 67% of children who lost their caregivers were Hispanic. In Mississippi, 57% of children who lost their caregivers were Black, the study found.

The new study based its calculation on excessive deaths or deaths in excess of what would be considered typical. Most of these deaths were caused by the coronavirus, but the pandemic is growing too more deaths from other causes.

Kate Kelly, a Georgia teenager, lost her 54-year-old father in January. William “Ed” Kelly was having difficulty breathing and an emergency clinic suspected this was due to COVID-19, she said. But it turned out he had a clogged artery and died of a heart attack while working. Kate, her two sisters and her mother stayed behind.

For the first month after his death, friends and neighbors brought food, donated, and gave him great support. But after that it seemed like everyone had moved on – except for Kate and her family.

“It just didn’t help,” said the Lilburn high school junior.


The Associated Press Health & Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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