In the United States alone, over 167,000 children grieved the loss of at least one parent or caregiver during the pandemic. The term ‘COVID orphans’ was first used by Harvard professor Charles Nelson to describe children who have lost one or both primary caregivers to the COVID-19. In an article for WBUR in January 2022, Tonya Mosley and Allison Hagan explore this collateral effect of the pandemic —the displacement of victims’ dependents—which goes grossly underreported by the mainstream media.
Children process grief differently than adults, but signs of emotional suffering are easy to miss when you don’t know what to look for. Nelson believes the longer a child has to wait for help, the harder the treatment will be. Lack of early intervention may account for social, emotional, and cognitive challenges down the road and can also lead to childhood depression and anxiety. The physiological effects of trauma and stress can be equally devastating, often causing chronic conditions. While these are all highly sought out issues to aid in America, only ten percent of bilateral funding, one government transferring funds to a recipient country, is invested toward vulnerable and orphaned children.
Nelson maintains that it’s ultimately up to government municipalities to address and determine the needs of COVID orphans, such as counseling and long-term treatment plans. In the meantime, building a support system is crucial.
“Any time that child cries out for help or shows any sign of needing help, the adult needs to be available,” Nelson told WBUR. “Because if too much time goes by and the child’s needs are not attended to, that feeling of abandonment is just going to get overwhelming for that child.”
In July 2021, Myles and Marina Daniel’s world was turned upside down. Their father, Martin, died at home of COVID-19, and just 24 hours later, their mother Trina was rushed to the hospital, struggling to breathe, and later died of COVID in the ICU. In an instant, teenagers Myles and Marina lost both of their parents. That’s when their cousins Cornelius and Melanie, already parents of three, decided to take them in.
“This is bigger than us,” Cornelius Daniel said. “God has given us a bigger purpose, and we’ve stepped into that moment and walked into it with that focus, making sure these young people have the opportunities they need to move forward in life.”
Still, the Daniels told WBUR they worry for grieving children just like Myles and Marina who may not have access to this type of emotional and financial support. The family wrote a letter to Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in their home state of Georgia proposing legislation that would expand support for families who have opened their home to COVID orphans. The Daniels have yet to receive a response.
These concerns aren’t without merit. A 2021 study by Susan D. Hillis for The Lancet revealed, the US is home to more than 113,000 COVID orphans. According to Hillis’ research, from March 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021, an estimated 1,134,000 children worldwide experienced the death of at least one primary caregiver. The New York Times, NPR and The Washington Post separately published articles about COVID orphan displacement specifically within India, misrepresenting the global nature of this issue and ignoring its impact in the US.
Source: Tonya Mosley and Allison Hagan, “An Overlooked Consequence of COVID-19: The Hundreds of Thousands of Orphans Left Behind,” WBUR, January 13, 2022.
Student Researchers: Liz Wagner and Claire Roth (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)