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Kids who lost a parent from COVID-19 need support services for long-term wellness

Without support, experts worry about how kids will cope with trauma into adulthood

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A new study conducted by researchers from Penn State explored the long-term impacts associated with children who lost parents during the COVID-19 pandemic

They found that it’s important for kids who experienced loss during the pandemic to get necessary support services because those who don’t may be at an increased risk of developing mental health issues. The study shows that they’re also more likely to struggle financially and have more physical health issues. 

“When we think of COVID-19 mortality, much of the conversation focuses on the fact that older adults are the populations at greatest risk,” said researcher Ashton Verdery. “About 81 percent of deaths have been among those ages 65 and older according to the CDC. However, that leaves 19 percent of deaths among those under 65 -- 15 percent of deaths are among those in their 50s and early 60s and three percent are among those in their 40s. 

“In these younger age groups, substantial numbers of people have children, for whom the loss of a parent is a potentially devastating challenge.” 

Getting kids support

To understand how prevalent this issue is, the researchers utilized several different prediction models to determine how parental losses over the pandemic have compared to other years. They then used those findings to figure out what this level of loss could mean for kids as they mature into adulthood. 

The researchers learned that total parental loss across the country is likely to increase by about 20 percent over this past year. They found that roughly every 13 coronavirus-related deaths leaves one child without a parent. 

“I think the first thing we need to do is proactively connect all children to the available supports of they are entitled to -- like Social Security child survivor benefits -- research shows only about half of eligible children are connected to these programs in normal circumstances, but those that do fare much better,” said Verdery. “We should also consider expanding eligibility to these resources. Second, a national effort to identify and provide counseling and related sources to all children who lose a parent is vital.”

Social isolation also plays a role

Because kids haven’t consistently been in school over the last year, they also haven’t been around their friends as often. The researchers worry about how this social isolation will impact young people’s mental health, and what else that could impact as they grow into adulthood. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that these findings lead to lasting changes when it comes to getting kids the adequate support that they need following the loss of a parent from COVID-19. 

“The establishment of a national child bereavement cohort could identify children who have lost parents, monitor them for early identification of emerging challenges, link them to locally delivered care, and form the basis for a longitudinal study of the long-term effects of mass parental bereavement during a uniquely challenging time of social isolation and economic uncertainty,” the researchers wrote.

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