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Covid-19 Pandemic Results in 40,000 Children Losing a Parent

STONY BROOK, NY, April 5, 2021 – A letter published in JAMA Pediatrics, co-authored by Rachel Kidman, PhD, of the Program in Public Health at Stony Brook University, presents a statistical model showing that around 40,000 children (est. between 37,000 and 43,000) had lost a parent due to the Covid-19 pandemic by February 2021. This amounts to an average of one child losing a parent for every 13 Covid-19 deaths.

Children face immense challenges in the wake of the pandemic. While there have been anecdotal reports of children losing parents, this is the first study to estimate the increase in orphan rates nationwide. The authors also published an Op Ed in the Washington Post to bring attention to the tens of thousands of children orphaned by Covid-19 who need immediate support.

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Rachel Kidman, PhD

“The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic for children – from heightened physical violence to food insecurity – will leave a mark on this generation. We show that children are also increasingly experiencing parental death, which can have severe and lasting consequences,” says Dr. Kidman, Associate Professor of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine in the Renaissance School of Medicine and in the Program of Public Health.

The study combined data on Covid-19 mortality and simulated data on kinship networks to quantify how many children, ages zero to 17 years, in the U.S. have lost a parent over the course of the pandemic. They found that between 37,000 and 43,000 more children had lost a parent by February – an 18 to 20 percent increase in orphaning compared to a typical year (i.e., a year without Covid-19).

Dr. Kidman and her co-authors point out that the burden will increase as the death toll from Covid-19 continues to mount. Their data also shows that Black children are disproportionally affected: they comprise 14 percent of the children in the U.S. but 20 percent of those losing a parent to Covid-19, reflecting underlying inequalities in mortality.

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

Dr. Kidman stresses that the country needs to mobilize resources now, as well as sustain efforts to monitor this affected and vulnerable population of children into the future. She states that “Right now, these children need schools to be open so they can socialize with friend and access support. They need interventions that can help them deal with their grief and can prevent more severe mental health consequences down the road. Their families need economic relief. There may also be unique challenges that emerge in the future – we don’t know the impact of experiencing loss and grief during such an acute national crisis – and we have to be prepared to respond with flexibility and compassionate programming.”

Dr. Kidman’s co-authors include Rachel Margolis of the University of Western Ontario in Canada, Emily Smith-Greenaway of the University of Southern California, and Ashton Verdery of The Pennsylvania State University.

About Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University:

Established in 1971, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University includes 25 academic departments. The three missions of the School are to advance the understanding of the origins of human health and disease; train the next generation of committed, curious and highly capable physicians; and deliver world-class compassionate healthcare. As a member of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and a Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accredited medical school, Stony Brook is one of the foremost institutes of higher medical education in the country. Each year the School trains nearly 500 medical students and more than 600 medical residents and fellows. Faculty research includes National Institutes of Health-sponsored programs in neurological diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disorders, biomedical imaging, regenerative medicine, infectious diseases, and many other topics. Physicians on the School of Medicine faculty deliver world-class medical care through more than 31,000 inpatient, 108,000 emergency room, and 940,000 outpatient visits annually at Stony Brook University Hospital and affiliated clinical programs, making its clinical services one of the largest and highest quality medical schools on Long Island, New York. To learn more, visit www.medicine.stonybrookmedicine.edu.

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