‘All their skies have fallen’: More than 167,000 American children have lost a caregiver to Covid | Children

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MElanie Keaton, 9, spent hours playing with her grandfather. Have tea together with her set of miniature toys. Go on trips to the zoo. Zigzag their characters across the Candy Land board.

When he fell ill with the coronavirus in April 2020 and went to hospital during New York’s first wave of killers, the girl, then only 7 years old, turned to her mother.

“He’ll be fine, won’t he?” ” she asked.

Her mother, Melissa Keaton, had to tell her daughter a few days later that their beloved “Papa”, who was 61, would not be returning to the Flatbush apartment he shared with them and where he had helped to. take care of her granddaughter.

“My dad was in the hospital,” Keaton told 74. “We never heard from him. We never got to see him or speak to him. [Melanie] I did not have the opportunity to see this visual, final goodbye.

The young Brooklynite is one of more than 167,000 children who are believed to have lost their parents or guardians to Covid during the pandemic – about one in 450 young people in the United States under the age of 18.

The tally updates the October estimate that 140,000 minors had lost caregiving adults to the virus, and that’s four times more than a spring tally that found nearly 40,000 children had suffered an injury. such loss. In a Dec. 9 report titled Hidden Pain, researchers at the COVID Collaborative and Social Policy Analytics released the new total, which they derived by combining coronavirus death numbers with household-level data from the American Community. Survey 2019.

The death toll further underscores the arduous task facing schools as they seek to help students recover not only academically, but also emotionally, from a pandemic that has already lasted 22 months and made over 800,000 American deaths. It is such a concern that Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on December 7 used a rare public speech to warn Americans of the “devastating” effects of the pandemic on the mental health of young people. A 53-page companion report calls out the particular difficulties faced by young people who have lost parents or caregivers to the virus.

Grieving children are more than twice as likely to function functionally at school and at home, even seven years later. Photograph: Hannah Beier / Reuters

Bereaved children have higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than those who have not lost their parents, according to a 2018 study that followed bereaved children for several years. They are more than twice as likely to have functional impairment at school and at home, even seven years later, which means these children need immediate and long-term counseling and support to cope. to such a traumatic loss.

“As the nation seeks to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need to address the crisis of children left behind,” COVID Collaborative CEO John Bridgeland said in a press release discussing the co-published research of his organization.

“For these children their skies have fallen, and supporting them through this trauma must be a top priority.”

The sky had indeed fallen for the Keaton family.

Melanie Keaton and her grandfather look through shoe boxes during a 2017 solar eclipse.
Melanie Keaton and her grandfather look through shoe boxes during a 2017 solar eclipse. Photography: Courtesy of Melissa Keaton

After suffering just one seizure three years ago, Melissa Keaton said she developed full-blown epilepsy after losing her father to multiple uncontrolled seizures. Melanie has seen her mother have spasms on the floor at least once.

The elementary student’s virtual classroom was not equipped to help the young child deal with his multiple traumas, his mother said, and the school’s mental health services have not contacted the family. Meanwhile, lessons related to Covid – for example, on the vaccine – triggered painful memories for Melanie, making online classes sometimes overwhelming, and her school missed signs that she was struggling emotionally.

Of all the children who have lost caregivers to the virus since Covid-19 struck, a disproportionate share is black. These losses among African-American youth like Melanie are more than twice the rate for white youth, according to data in the new report. Indigenous, Hispanic and Asian youth have also suffered disproportionate losses, the figures show.

“Children most likely to lose a caregiver to Covid-19 are also the most likely to have faced previous hardships,” said Dan Treglia, report co-author and associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania. This raises the stakes, he added, to provide support to help these young people heal.

The 70% of all children bereaved by Covid who are 13 years of age or younger are also particularly vulnerable. More than 13,000 children of all ages have lost their only caregiver at home.

Melissa Keaton said she turned every stone she could to seek mental health support for her daughter, but was unable to get advice. Long before the pandemic resulted in increased demand, only 38% of US schools reported providing mental health services to students, and 52% said inadequate funding was “a major limitation” in their ability to. provide these services, according to 2017-18 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

“Trying to find a therapist or someone to talk to was impossible,” she said. “Call, you know, office after office and everyone’s at capacity, there’s nothing available. “

The COVID Collaborative and Social Policy Analytics report recommends that policymakers dedicate resources to bereavement camps, group counseling and therapy to support children like Melanie as they move forward and recover. They recommend the creation of a bereavement fund for affected families, similar to the one created for the relatives of the victims of September 11. Schools, researchers say, can play a critical role in scaling up mental health services and mentoring for students.

The US bailout, which will send a total of $ 122 billion to US schools, includes funding that some campuses are using to bolster their programs to meet the mental health needs of students, especially around trauma-related injuries. pandemic. So far, more than 20% of school systems have invested some of their relief money in socio-emotional learning materials, according to a Dec. 13 chart from the Burbio data service, which has tracked how districts are using the influx of federal dollars.

But with or without support, the Keaton family will continue to feel a gaping hole in their home. The holidays, said Melissa Keaton, are particularly difficult. They always spent Thanksgiving watching football with his father. Her birthday on December 23 was part of their Christmas routine.

“We have these people who have lost family members, and they are kind of forgotten, strangers. We don’t talk about it because everyone wants to get past it and get back to normal, ”she said.

“But for people who have lost someone, some things just will never be normal.”

  • This report was first published by 74, a non-profit, non-partisan news site covering education in America.

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