A powerful ally steps up to support students who’ve lost parents to COVID

COVID Collaborative wants to expand school-based mental health care and provide financial support.
By: | December 9, 2021
(AdobeStock)(AdobeStock)

More than 167,000 children under 18—about one out of every 450 kids—have lost a parent or other in-home caregiver to COVID-19 over the last two years.

Now, those students have a powerful new ally in the COVID Collaborative, a bipartisan coalition of influential health, education, and economic experts that will develop strategies to set up a national fund to support these children and expand school-based mental health care, among other solutions.

The organization is calling in school leaders to support its efforts by partnering with community organizations and advocating for the strategies with legislators and other policymakers.

“Many of these children already faced significant social and economic adversity, and these devastating losses can impact their development and success for the rest of their lives,” the Collaborative says in its new “Hidden Pain” report on the pandemic’s toll on school-age youth.

Here are some of the report’s key findings:

  • More than 72,000 children lost a parent to COVID-19 and over 67,000 lost a grandparent caregiver in the home, while more than 13,000 children lost their only in-home caregiver.
  • 70% of caregiver loss affected those aged 13 and younger, and 50% percent of caregiver loss (83,798) was among elementary and middle-school-age children.
  • Non-white children lost caregivers at higher rates than their white peers. Black and Hispanic children lost them at nearly 2.5 times the rate of white children.
  • Five states—California, Florida, Georgia, New York and Texas—accounted for half of the caregiver loss from COVID-19. Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas had the highest rates of caregiver loss, while Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wisconsin had the lowest rates.
  • The District of Columbia had the widest disparities in caregiver loss, where Black and Hispanic children’s rates of caregiver loss were 11 and 18 times the rates of loss for white children.

Among its recommendations, the Collaborative is advocating for a substantial expansion of mental health care offered through schools in partnership with local providers. It also wants COVID-bereaved children to have greater access to high-quality early childhood programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start.

It also hopes leaders will “expand the grief competence” of schools, community-based organizations and faith-based institutions. Its other recommendations, which school leaders can help lobby for, include:

  • Develop a registry of grief services to guide referral efforts and make those widely available through communities, states and national platforms.
  • Strengthen social service systems providing critical resources to COVID-bereaved children and their families, which will have impacts beyond the immediate crisis.
  • Expand access to outpatient mental health care through increased co-location of services, integrated behavioral health care and telehealth access.
  • Congress should make permanent the Child Tax Credit as revised by the American Rescue Plan, which will benefit families experiencing loss.
  • The White House and Congress should provide categorical eligibility for COVID-19 bereaved children for a range of means-tested economic supports, including TANF, SNAP, Medicaid and the recently amended Child Tax Credit.
  • State and local governments should provide pre-emptive outreach, case management and eligibility screenings for families with a COVID-19 decedent to facilitate enrollment in protective supports and services.
  • The federal government should improve outreach and accessibility for FEMA’s Funeral Reimbursement Assistance program, Social Security Death, and Survivor’s Benefits.

To achieve all this, the Collaborative—which is led by former Idaho governor Dick Kempthorne, a Republican, and Massachusetts’ former Democratic governor, Deval Patrick—says the nation must launch a coordinated strategy to identify every child who has lost a parent or guardian to COVID-19. The effort would include schools, community-based organizations and primary care settings, and rely on municipal administrative records.

Finally, the organization has proposed the creation of a Bereaved Children’s Fund similar to those established for the families of Sept. 11 victims and for HIV/AIDS orphans.

“As the nation looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need to address the crisis of children left behind,” said John Bridgeland, co-founder and CEO of COVID Collaborative. “For these children, their whole sky has fallen, and supporting them through this trauma must be a top priority.”