While we are all wanting to get back to “normal,” there are many whose lives won’t ever be normal again, including those who have lost a loved one to COVID. According to estimates by the New York Times, as of 4/20/22, over 987,000 Americans have died of the virus. We know that all of those individuals were beloved family members and friends, but some of them had a key role in the lives of young people- as a parent or caregiver.
The death of a parent or caregiver is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), a traumatic experience that occurs before a child reaches the age of 18. These experiences can have a tremendous impact on young people’s lives in a variety of ways, including loss of security, loss of feeling safe, loss of family structure, loss of plans for the future, etc. ACEs are also linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse problems in adolescence and adulthood, and can negatively impact education and future career trajectories. The negative impacts are magnified for youth who experience multiple ACEs, which can also include things like emotional or physical abuse, witnessing or experiencing violence, growing up in poverty, and others.
A recent multi-agency report titled Hidden Pain pulled together nationwide statistics for youth who lost a parent or caregiver to COVID, and it is overwhelming. As of 2/28/22 in the United States,
- Total Loss: 203,649 children under 18—more than one out of every 360—lost a parent or other in-home caregiver to COVID-19.
- Loss of A Parent, A Grandparent Caregiver, or Their Only Caregiver: More than 91,000 children lost a parent to COVID-19 and over 79,000 lost a grandparent caregiver in the home, while more than 15,000 children lost their only in-home caregiver.
- Loss by Age: Seventy percent of caregiver loss (143,460) affected those aged 13 and younger. Fifty percent of caregiver loss (102,118) was among elementary and middle-school age children (5-13 years old) and 20 percent (41,342) was among those from birth through 4 years old. More than 29 percent (60,189) of caregiver loss affected youth who were high school age (14-17 years old).
- Loss by Race & Ethnicity: Non-White children lost caregiving adults at higher rates than their White peers. American Indian and Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander children lost caregivers at rates about 3.5 times the rate of White children; Black and Hispanic children at nearly 2 times the rate of White children; and Asian children at 1.4 times that of White children.
- Loss is Concentrated, but Also Found in Every State in the Country: Five states—California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Texas—accounted for half (50 percent) of total caregiver loss from COVID-19. Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas had the highest rates of caregiver loss, while Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Iowa had the lowest rates.
When a parent dies, youth are faced immediately with how to grieve their loss. This will be a different experience for each child, depending on their age, the circumstances leading up to the loss, and the supports that remain in their life, especially from their remaining caregivers. It is important to hold open space for however youth grieve, and to support not only your Club members, but their entire families. The excerpt below from Be There gives some ways youth may react to grief by age.
Boys & Girls Clubs can help youth build resilience, the result of social, cognitive, and behavioral skills that youth need to be healthy and productive. These developed skills enable youth to adapt and function despite life adversities. Studies on resilience consistently shed light on one critical common factor: the importance of youth having and maintaining connections with caring adults. Club staff can provide safe environments that are consistent, encourage accountability, and allow youth to express their feelings, ultimately empowering them to navigate challenges with confidence.
BGCA has resources that can help staff develop the practices and organizations the policies they need to support youth who have experienced loss. These include:
- Trauma-Informed Practice is an organizational development process that aims to improve your Club or Youth Center’s ability to effectively support both the young people impacted by trauma, and all people that your organization serves. We have resources to support your work through the four phases of becoming Trauma-Informed, including diagnostics, training opportunities, funding toolkits and more. See them all at BGCA.net/trauma-informed.
- Be There is a comprehensive approach to help Clubs build supportive relationships and integrate best practices to cope with everyday loss, grief and bereavement. Download the toolkit and see accompanying resources at BGCA.net/bethere. Also available is the Be There Toolkit specifically adapted for those working with Native Youth.
This stuff is really hard. Really really hard. But I’m grateful for the opportunity we have to be those caring adults in the lives of young people. It’s a tremendous privilege. We are already hearing stories of youth walking through grief with Club staff at their side, including Gabriella at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme. Weeks shy of her 15th birthday, and in the midst of planning her quinceañera together, Gabriella lost her mom to COVID-19. Club staff stepped in to not only comfort Gabby and her siblings, but picked up where her mom left off to give her the party of her dreams. Read Gabby’s story on BGCA.org.