As California looks toward a new, hopefully more normal chapter of the pandemic, I’ve found myself stuck on an unsettling statistic.
More than one in 330 children in the state have lost at least one of their caretakers to Covid-19, a disease that has now killed more than 928,000 people nationwide.
Loss is crushing for anyone, but the death of a parent or guardian carries potentially lifelong impacts for children — and could very well be one of the most enduring consequences of this pandemic.
While it’s true that most children who experience parental loss do not develop serious issues, studies have found that the overall rates of mental health and social problems in this group do tend to be higher in adulthood. Bereaved children are generally more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and to drop out of school and be unemployed.
Things like economic security and strong social networks during grieving can help stave off these long-term effects, but the pandemic has created instability in those aspects of life as well.
In an effort to begin addressing this issue, Santa Clara County leaders this week voted to establish a program to identify and support grieving children and to look into expanding campus wellness centers at local schools.
“Our county has a particular obligation to address the recovery needs of children who may face lifelong challenges due to the loss of a parent or primary caregiver,” Susan Ellenberg, the county supervisor who wrote the referral, said at a board meeting this week. “While kids have generally been less directly impacted by severe illness, they have borne some of the most significant burdens of the pandemic.”
The rate of children who lost a parent or other in-home caregiver to Covid is higher in California than nationally — one in 330 versus one in 450 — and is the fourth highest out of 50 states, according to a report released in December.
It’s important to note that the data in the report includes deaths only through mid-November, so the figures don’t factor in the thousands of additional deaths from the recent Omicron surge.
Still, the available figures reflect the uneven toll of Covid-19 on children.
In California and nationwide, teenagers experienced the highest rates of Covid-19 bereavement compared with other age groups, which is most likely because their parents and grandparents are older and therefore more vulnerable to the disease.
Children of color were also far more likely to have been bereaved in the past two years. In California, the fraction of Hispanic children who lost a parent or other in-home caretaker to the virus is nearly four times higher than that of white children.
Here’s a more detailed look at the numbers:
Rate of Covid-19 bereaved children in the five largest states
California: 304 per 100,000 children
New York: 320
Number of bereaved children in California by age
Ages 0 to 4: 5,936
Ages 5 to 13: 13,566
Ages 14 to 17: 7,389
All ages: 26,891
Rate of bereaved children by race in California
Asian: 226 per 100,000 children
Non-Hispanic Black: 314
Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 647
American Indian or Alaska Native: 185
Non-Hispanic white: 123
In Santa Clara County, recent surveys of fifth graders have revealed that 47 percent have unmet mental health and emotional needs, said Kathleen King, head of the Healthier Kids Foundation, based in San Jose, which conducted the survey. That’s nearly double the expected rate for that age group, she told me.
The pandemic has exacerbated an existing youth mental health crisis in the United States, experts say. On top of rising anxiety and depression rates, children are now grappling with loneliness from school and other disruptions, economic instability and grief of all kinds.
Sparky Harlan, director of the Bill Wilson Center, a nonprofit based in Santa Clara that runs youth grief groups, told me that many children were struggling with witnessing loss for the first time. They see a young uncle die of Covid-19, and they worry their mother is next.
“It’s not just caregivers, but it’s sort of the family network. Whether it’s a grandparent or an aunt or uncle — the loss that children feel reverberates,” she said. “They’re soaking up this grief.”
If you read one story, make it this
How Asian Americans fueled the San Francisco recall.
The rest of the news
Pandemic: Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday unveiled his plan to treat the coronavirus as a manageable risk that “will remain with us for some time, if not forever.”
Drought: National forecasters are pessimistic about California escaping the drought this year.
Spotify: Betting on Joe Rogan brought the music streaming platform more than it bargained for.
Cal State chancellor resigns: The head of the California State University system resigned on Thursday amid criticism of his handling of sexual harassment allegations when he was Fresno State’s president, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.
C.H.P. fraud: Dozens of highway patrol officers in Los Angeles have been charged with racking up more than $226,000 in phony hours in an overtime fraud scheme, The Associated Press reports.
The Oscars: Guests attending the 94th Oscars on March 27 in Los Angeles will be required to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination and at least two negative P.C.R. tests.
Disney living: A Disney-branded community is opening in Rancho Mirage, NBC Los Angeles reports.
Arts: David Zwirner will open a new three-building gallery complex in East Hollywood in January 2023.
Eric Kay verdict: The former communications director for the Los Angeles Angels was found guilty for his role in the death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs.
Hiker found: Gab Song, a 73-year-old man who was lost in a freak snowstorm, was found safe on Thursday, NBC reports.
Wildfire: A fire that started on Wednesday in remote Owens Valley had not yet been contained on Thursday, The Associated Press reports.
Corporate America: The Great Resignation comes for the C-suite.
California crime labs: Prosecutors and advocates were shocked by claims by San Francisco’s district attorney that California crime labs were using rape-kit DNA to investigate unrelated crimes, The Associated Press reports.
Assembly runoff: Two San Francisco Democrats, Matt Haney and David Campos, appear headed to a runoff election for a vacant seat in the State Assembly, The Associated Press reports.
What we’re eating
How to make yogurt.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s travel tip comes from Nina Ricceri, who recommends the Central Coast’s Montaña de Oro State Park:
“There are quite a few beautiful, easy hikes at this quiet state park. Located just outside of Los Osos, it’s definitely a local favorite.”
What are your favorite places to visit in California?
Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Karen Chen, a figure skater from California, performs in costumes carefully designed with Swarovski crystals that are the best for catching the light. There could be thousands of them on each dress, and each is individually glued on.
And unusually for the top level of the sport, Chen’s dresses are made by her mother.
Chen, 22, wore meticulously mom-made dresses in both the short program and the free skate of the team event at the Beijing Olympics last week, when the United States won the silver medal. She can’t imagine wearing a dress made by anyone else.
“It’s hard to explain, but I just feel the best when I wear them,” Chen told The Times.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be off Monday because of Presidents’ Day. See you Tuesday. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: A sport or a shirt (4 letters).
Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
The post Santa Clara County Tackles Children’s Covid-19 Grief appeared first on New York Times.