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120,000 children lost a parent amid the COVID-19 pandemic

(NEW YORK) — The number of American children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be higher than previously estimated, and the number has been much higher among black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.

More than half of the children who lost a primary caregiver during the pandemic were from those two racial groups, which make up about 40% of the US population, according to the study published Thursday by the medical journal Pediatrics.

“These findings really highlight the children who have been made most vulnerable by the pandemic and where additional resources should be directed,” one of the study’s authors, Dr. Alexandra Blenkinsop of Imperial College London, said in a statement.

During the 15 months of the nearly 19-month COVID-19 pandemic, more than 120,000 US children lost a parent or grandparent who was the primary provider of financial support and care, the study found. Another 22,000 children suffered the death of a secondary caregiver, for example, a grandparent who provided housing but not other basic needs of the child.

In many cases, surviving parents or other relatives stayed behind to support these children. But the researchers used the term “orphanhood” in their study when trying to estimate how many children’s lives were changed.

Federal statistics are not yet available on how many US children entered foster care last year. The researchers estimate that COVID-19 caused a 15% increase in orphaned children.

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

An earlier study by different researchers estimated that approximately 40,000 American children lost a parent to COVID-19 in February 2021.

The findings of the two studies are not inconsistent, said Ashton Verdery, an author of the previous study. Verdery and his colleagues focused on a shorter time period than the new study. Verdery’s group also focused only on the deaths of the parents, while the new article also captured what happened to the grandparents who care for them.

“It’s very important to understand grandparent losses,” Verdery, a Penn State researcher, said in an email. “Many children live with grandparents,” a living arrangement more common among certain racial groups.

About 32% of all children who lost a primary caregiver were Hispanic and 26% were black. Hispanic and black Americans make up much smaller percentages of the population than that. White children accounted for 35% of children who lost their primary caregivers, despite the fact that more than half of the population is white.

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

The new study based its estimate on excess deaths, or deaths above what would be considered typical. Most of those deaths were from the coronavirus, but the pandemic has also led to 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 it was due to COVID-19, she said. But it turned out that she had a blocked artery and died on the job of a heart attack, leaving Kate, her two sisters and her mother.

In the first month after his death, friends and neighbors brought groceries, made donations and were very supportive. But after that, it seemed like everyone moved on, except for Kate and her family.

“It’s been like no help at all,” the Lilburn high school student said.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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