U.S. children orphaned by COVID-19: What lies ahead?
A child wears a KN95 protective mask for kids arranged in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, U.S., January 13, 2022. /CFP

A child wears a KN95 protective mask for kids arranged in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, U.S., January 13, 2022. /CFP

More than 200,000 children in the United States have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19, according to a memorandum issued by U.S. President Joe Biden on April 5. Yet the the country offers very little support at a federal level to these pandemic orphans, potentially leaving them with tremendous difficulties ahead.

Researchers have pointed out that bereaved children are at an increased risk of mental ill-health and psychosocial problems, and are more likely to experience alcohol and substance abuse, dropping out of school, and poverty, according to multiple studies archived in the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine.

A study conducted in three Nordic countries also found that orphans are twice as likely as non-orphans to commit suicide.

As the COVID-19 death toll in the United States rose up to nearly 1 million, one out of every 12 orphans under the age of 18 is resulted from a pandemic caregiver loss, Slate magazine contributing writer and New York University lecturer Tim Requarth wrote in The Atlantic.

So far, little effort has been taken by the country to address the plight of pandemic orphans even if decades of research has proved that immediate intervention is crucial for them to overcome challenges and might mitigate further threats to society. 

Apart from a vague statement that the Biden administration will provide a support program, no further detailed resources or executive orders have been provided specifically for pandemic orphans. Meanwhile, trillions of dollars have been allocated as pandemic relief.

Less than half of all orphans in the U.S. receive the financial resources allocated to them, according to David Weaver's study on "Parental Mortality and Outcomes among Minor and Adult Children" in 2019.

Furthermore, many of the pandemic orphans are faced with systematic barriers from the beginning and are left unprepared as the virus spreads fast. The Pew Research Center discovered in 2019 that almost a quarter of U.S. children under the age of 18 live with one parent and no other adults, and about one fourth of single parents live in poverty. 

The silver lining is that some states are taking action. California State Senator Nancy Skinner introduced a bill in January to set up a HOPE trust fund for each of the state's more than 20,000 pandemic orphans which would provide an annual deposit of $4,000 to $8,000, and Santa Clara County of California has set aside $30 million in federal relief funds for identifying and supporting children who lost caregivers to COVID-19. 

Democratic representatives in New Jersey and Michigan have also called on the federal government to “raise awareness” of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on bereaved children.

However, "without a stronger centralized national strategy, tens of thousands of children are likely to fall through the cracks," warned Requarth in the article. 

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