By Zhang Andi
Is the pandemic really over in the US? From the masks left in the corner, you may find the pandemic gone and life going back to normal. But the COVID-19 pandemic has a far-reaching impact on the US and its people.
The total loss of lives from COVID-19 outnumbers deaths in all wars the US has fought, and the impact of that loss on children in less than two years is profound. In the US, some 200,000 under 18 lost at least one parent to COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and more than 250,000 children lost their primary or secondary caregivers, according to the modeling study by Imperial College, “Global Minimum Estimates of Children Affected by COVID-19-associated Orphanhood and Deaths of Caregivers”, which later drew international attention. Of the countries investigated by the researchers, the US is among those facing the most severe orphanhood crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and no other developed country has suffered so dearly.
In the US, the problem is worse in some communities and groups than in others. The racial and ethnic disparities of the COVID-19 death toll were discussed a lot, but the caregiver loss may further compound this gap. The rate of loss for American Indian and Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander children is nearly four times that of White children; and Black and Hispanic children experienced more than twice that of White children(0.13%), according to the COVID Collaborative report “Hidden Pain”.
By studying previous epidemics such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola, the researchers believe that losing one or both parents can easily result in mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and further cause behaviors that jeopardize their physical wellness, such as poor academic outcomes, school dropout, substance abuse, suicide, economic turmoil, and general instability. Furthermore, the institutionalization of orphans is highly detrimental to their physical and social development, which results in developmental delays and elevated abuse.
The trauma of losing a parent or caregiver can be contained if there is in-time intervention to address their grief and keep the situation from collapsing. The COVID Collaborative report brought up the discussion on the coordinated strategy to identify the victims, which includes schools, community-based organizations, primary care settings, and the use of municipal administrative records. Then, it's crucial for the government and NGOs to step in and provide educational, financial, and psychological support to ensure the children remain in safe and nurturing family care with relatives, through foster care, or through adoption. Meanwhile, accelerating equitable vaccine delivery is key to prevention, which is a ground rule under the “Prevention, Preparation, Protection” principle the World Bank proposed for COVID orphan placement.
However, child-care agencies can spare little time for the COVID-related orphans. On any given day, nearly 407,000 children are in foster care in the US, and the foster system is already overwhelmed by the COVID- 19 pandemic, as basic services and support were for months suspended due to virus-related court closures and delays, according to Scientific America.
On the other hand, so far, no law or executive order has provided any resources specifically for pandemic orphans in the US. Biden Administration has made vague promises on the well-being of COVID-19 orphans, which seem insufficient and indirect. The effort will be focused on raising awareness about existing resources for families rather than implementing initiatives that would require new funds, according to the Atlantic.
Think about this, the number of children whose parents or caregivers died from COVID-19 is increasing every second as the death toll in the country spikes to a new level. Without identifying and providing proper help to this group of children, the COVID-19 orphanhood crisis will entrench, grow, and finally be tremendous enough to be a drawback for a generation, and no one knows how long it will take for the White House to make a difference. Just as Global Times commented, in the rush to declare the "end" of the COVID-19 pandemic, those trapped in the pain of the pandemic have been forgotten, intentionally or not. So, next time when you say to yourself that the battle against COVID-19 is over, you should also remember, at what cost?
(Here’s a reference list of the source where we got the video footage, and we recommend anyone who reads our multi-media work to watch the documentaries in the link below. We sincerly respect the professional journalists who casted their light on the hidden issue of COVID orphanhood and enlightened much more people.)