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Local philanthropies and donors can play a lead role in marshaling others in their communities to lead an effort to respond to this tragic situation. Here are five ways to help children who have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19.

Assessments of COVID-19’s effects on children have focused primarily on their academic, social, and emotional losses. Little attention has been given  to those young people whose parents or caregivers died from COVID-19. There was limited information available on  how many children fell into this tragic subset.  

A report from the COVID Collaborative changes that. This bipartisan group of policymakers, educators, and other national and community leaders presents us with stark facts about the loss of parents and caregivers. The report also suggests  a path forward to guide the response of local philanthropies, individual donors, and other community leaders.  

As COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. surpass 1 million, the families and friends of these individuals have suffered from the close experience of death. This is particularly tragic for more than 200,000 children under 18, roughly one of every 360 children, who lost one of their parents or caretakers to the pandemic. (Internationally, this number is estimated to be 5.2 million). The COVID Collaborative offers a brief sketch of this demographic:  

  • More than 72,000 children lost a parent and over 67,000 lost a grandparent caregiver who lived with them. More than 13,000 children lost their only in-home caregiver.
  • Twenty percent of the losses affect those four years of age and younger; 50 percent elementary and middle school children; and 30 percent high schoolers.
  • Half of these losses are concentrated in five states:
  • Finally, this burden of grief and loss falls most heavily on minority children: non-children had nearly four times the losses than White children.

While these numbers are small in comparison to the number of children affected by the pandemic in other ways, they form a significant and acutely vulnerable segment of America’s child population deserving of urgent philanthropic attention.

A path forward

The COVID Collaborative report estimates that upwards of 90 percent of these children will experience “normal grief.” That means grief can be managed though a variety of avenues that include family support and community and social support like grief camps and peer support groups. There are also evidence-based programs that can help, like mentoring programs, the Family Bereavement Program, and grief-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

But as many as one in ten of these children will have more traumatic and complicated responses to loss that require clinical intervention. These children are especially vulnerable to longer consequences beyond childhood, including depression, dropping out of school, excessive alcohol consumption, suicide, and reduced employment.

Local philanthropies and donors can play a lead role in marshaling others in their communities to lead an effort to respond to this tragic situation. Here are five ways to help children who have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19:      

  1. Identify these children. Create a task force with representatives from social service agencies, schools, employers, and other community groups to identify these young people and their families.
  2. Create a public information campaign. This campaign could be one of the first things the task force does as part of locating these children, encouraging them and their families to seek help and connecting them to local resources.
  3. Rely on evidence-based programs. Integrate these programs into existing programs that social service groups, health care agencies, and schools have underway, especially through their social and emotional development programming.   
  4. Establish a children’s fund. This fund can provide short term financial assistance to families and children that need it, especially to support the mental health needs of those who require more formal support.  
  5. Ensure children and families receive what’s due them. There are federal, state, and local programs for the surviving young children who lose caregivers, like Social Security Death and Survivor’s Benefits or the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s funeral reimbursement program.

Each one can be taken in partnership with other community leaders. Federal funds given to school districts for COVID-19 relief can possibly be used initially to support these efforts, so there’s no need to wait “until we have the money to do this.” Local community foundations and donors can supplement this support.


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