The 74 Million published a piece discussing the implications of the pandemic, gun violence, and accidental overdoses and their impact on bereavement in children. As of June 2022, more than 250,000 American children under 18 had lost a primary caregiver to Covid-19. 2020 saw a 24.8% increase of children experiencing bereaved children with a total of 327,600 in comparison to the 2016-2019 average of 262,300. 22% of the deaths came from accidental overdoses, 5% from Covid-19, and 4% representing homicide by gunshot. These numbers represent an increase in 41% of deaths by gunshot and an increase in death from accidental overdoses with the article suggesting that the trend will likely continue to increase in 2022.
The impact is greater in vulnerable communities: children in Black and Indigenous communities experienced the loss of a caregiver at rates that were between two to four times greater than that of their white counterparts. In New York City, those neighborhoods experiencing poverty were the prime areas for loss. One educational director suggested that a single school may have lost nearly 100 family members surrounding the student body. While some urban educators received grief responsiveness training, other at-risk communities in rural areas may not have had access to the same resources, causing additional disparity.
When considering legislation that responds to these epidemics, Congress must remember grieving children. Policy recommendations from the article include screening to identify children who are experiencing bereavement to ensure they are getting support, giving teachers and staff knowledge to better work with the children and potentially reduce the associated risk factors for lasting trauma. Additionally, mental health and trauma-focused legislation should include investment in grief support for children through school-based programs and pediatric care.
By Chris Bennett, Policy Intern