ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Nearly everyone knows someone who got sick or passed away from COVID-19. And now, a recent report indicates a significant number of New Mexico children may have lost caretakers through the course of the pandemic.
The report from the COVID Collaborative — a nationwide collection of researchers, politicians, and other local leaders — estimates that New Mexico ranks among the top states where children lost caregivers to COVID-19 at a particularly high rate. The research estimates that New Mexico has the fourth-highest number of so-called “COVID-19 bereaved” children. They estimate that about 341 per 100,000 children in New Mexico lost a caregiver.
The numbers are only estimates. There’s no exact count of the number of children in New Mexico that lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19. But, the research reveals that across the nation, the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on families and children, according to Dan Treglia, an associate professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania who is one of the analysts who helped create the report.
“The nearly one million COVID-19 deaths in the United States have shaken the foundations of hundreds of thousands of families,” Treglia told KRQE News 13 in an email. “These deaths are a threat to the functioning of families and the development of children across the country, as bereaved children have lost a primary source of emotional, developmental, and material support. The loss of a parent can lead to lasting problems like depression, suicide, symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, lower rates of academic attainment and higher dropout rates, higher rates of alcohol and other substance use, suicide, and reduced employment.”
To make the estimates, the researchers first used COVID-19 death rates to calculate the probability that there would be a COVID-19 death in a household with a child. They weren’t looking at child deaths, of course, but they instead focused on the odds that one caregiver would die from COVID-19.
They then applied those odds to population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample from 2019. Those estimates give a detailed look at households across the nation. Ultimately, the researchers estimated that more than 167,000 children across the U.S. have likely lost at least one caregiver to COVID-19.
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The COVID Collective estimates reveal that New Mexico may have had one of the highest number of children, per capita, that lost a caregiver to COVID-19. Data from COVID Collective.
The state with the largest total estimated loss of caregivers was California. The researchers estimated that nearly 27,000 children in California lost at least one caregiver. Texas and New York were next, with about 25,630 and 12,784 bereaved children, respectively.
Although New Mexico had one of the highest rates of losing caregivers, the state has a relatively low total population. So, the researchers estimated that about 1,609 New Mexican children have lost caregivers. Most of the children affected, they estimate, are likely Hispanic or American Indian/Alaskan Native. White children make up only about 8.5% of those affected, according to the estimates.
“In the case of COVID-19, loss of caregivers in NM will continue to affect the youth directly, and the whole population indirectly, for a long time,” says Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of public health at New Mexico State University who was not involved in the research. “We knew that many racial minorities were heavily affected [by COVID-19], and even when they were infected, the rate of death was higher,” he says, explaining that he’s not surprised that Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native children were estimated to have lost the most caregivers.
And Khubchandani says the research likely underestimates the true number of children that have lost parents or caregivers to COVID-19. “As the report was based on data till November 2021, the numbers are bound to change if assessed today when we are looking at more than 1 million deaths nationwide,” he told KRQE News 13.
In addition to highlighting the numbers, the COVID Collective report provides recommendations on how government and private institutions can identify and assist children who have lost a caregiver to COVID-19. The recommendations range from urging the federal government to create a “COVID-19 Bereaved Children’s Fund” to implementing greater access to social service systems for children.
“Our recommendations boil down to three broad categories,” Treglia says, “identify children that have lost a caregiver, support the emotional and developmental needs of bereaved children and their families, and ensure their financial well-being. Federal, state, and local health and social service departments, community-based nonprofits, schools, faith-based organizations, healthcare institutions, and mental health providers, all have a role in supporting these vulnerable children.”
The New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) told KRQE News 13 that they partner with community organizations to help vulnerable children in New Mexico: “Maternal Child Health Program staff are deeply concerned about children who have experienced a parental loss due to COVID-19. We continue to provide community resources and wrap-around support to families suffering the loss of a family member.”