America Is Failing Its COVID Orphans

200K kids in US have lost a primary caregiver, and 'national response is not meeting the moment'
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2022 12:50 PM CDT
America Is Failing Its COVID Orphans

Because of COVID-19, more than 210,000 American children have lost at least one primary caregiver. Given that losing a parent is “one of the most destabilizing events of the human experience,” the consequences could be severe, writes Tim Requarth in the Atlantic. In some cases, children have lost both parents, or, for those in single-parent homes, the loss of their primary caregiver effectively relegated them to orphan status. And orphans face increased risk of substance abuse, poverty, suicide, and other negative outcomes. Unlike a virus, "orphanhood doesn’t come and go. It is a steadily rising slope, and the summit is still out of sight,” says Susan Hillis of the Global Reference Group on Children Affected by COVID-19. Children from all backgrounds are affected, but there are stark demographic disparities, with low-income, non-white, single-parent households hit hardest. In Requarth's view, "the national response is not meeting the moment.”

Despite all the resources the federal government has provided during the pandemic, there is no centralized effort aimed at orphans. The White House put out a memorandum recently marking the Biden administration’s first acknowledgement of the issue. It does not mention new initiatives and contains only vague assurances of future reports and plans, with a focus on "raising awareness about existing resources." Some states and cities have modest programs in the works—better than nothing but likely inadequate, because childhood development does not pause while the adults figure out what to do. "If we miss this critical period with children, then they are going to have this burden carried forward," says Rachel Kidman of Stony Brook University. “We can’t come back in five years and mitigate their pain. This has to happen now.” (Read the full piece.)

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