Student Well-Being What the Research Says

National Panel: Kids Who Lost a Caregiver to COVID Need More Support

By Sarah D. Sparks — March 17, 2023 2 min read
Illustration of child holding missing adult hand.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Barring major new outbreaks, school disruptions from the pandemic have passed. Federal and state governments have dedicated millions of dollars toward recouping the learning opportunities lost during school closures.

But a new report by the National Academies of Sciences suggests the recovery efforts to date have not targeted enough support for students who have lost family members.

The rise in family deaths and other disruptions could increase the “risk for a negative developmental cascade among traumatized and bereaved children who are already struggling educationally, leading to school failure,” National Academies researchers warned.

More than a million people have died from COVID and related complications in the last three years in the United States alone, with communities of color disproportionately hard hit due to systemic disparities in health care and other support.

The National Academies found children from racial and ethnic minority groups make up 65 percent of the 265,000 children who lost a parent or primary caregiver to COVID—and that’s not counting those who lost other family members.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found death rates for pregnant women and new mothers from all causes nearly doubled from January 2019 to January 2022, with mothers of color also disproportionately affected.

The trauma of losing a caregiver can increase students’ risk of long-term academic and mental health struggles in school, researchers noted, including internal depression and anxiety and external behavior problems, as well as greater “household chaos” and financial instability for the remaining family.

In school, experts said symptoms of grieving could show up years after the fact, from physical symptoms like headaches or stomach pain (particularly in younger students) to increased depression, anxiety, or behavior problems.

See Also

Conceptual illustration of a stressed and unhappy person under a storm of negative emotions and viruses
fedrelena/iStock
Student Well-Being Opinion Grief Has Engulfed the Learning Environment. Here's What Can Help
Brittany R. Collins, January 14, 2022
5 min read

The National Academies task force recommended state and federal policymakers extend family medical and social support programs targeted at the pandemic’s hardest hit communities, including Medicaid, the Child Health Insurance Program, and the Child Tax Credit, all of which were expanded during the pandemic but which may be cut back as outbreaks have eased.

“Across almost every outcome, low-income and racially and ethnically minoritized children and their families have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s negative effects, and without urgent, thoughtful interventions for their health and well-being, they will continue to bear it,” said Tumaini Rucker Coker, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital, and chairman of the committee that wrote the report.

For educators, the report recommended providing home visits to families of young children, and doing more to identify and provide mental health services to students traumatized by the pandemic.

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Creating Confident Readers: Why Differentiated Instruction is Equitable Instruction
Join us as we break down how differentiated instruction can advance your school’s literacy and equity goals.
Content provided by Lexia Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Teachers Want Parents to Step Up to Curb Cellphone Misuse. Are They Ready?
A program from the National PTA aims to partner with schools to give parents resources on teaching their children healthy tech habits.
5 min read
Elementary students standing in line against a brick wall using cellphones and not interacting.
iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being Schools Feel Less Equipped to Meet Students' Mental Health Needs Than a Few Years Ago
Less than half of public schools report that they can effectively meet students’ mental health needs.
4 min read
Image of a student with their head down on their arms, at a desk.
Olga Beliaeva/iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being Download How to Spot and Combat Student Apathy: A Teacher Resource
A guide to help teachers recognize and address apathy in the classroom.
1 min read
Student reading at a desk with their head on their hand.
Canva
Student Well-Being Social Media Bans Alone Won’t Improve Mental Health, Say Student Advocates
Students need safe spaces and supportive leaders to talk openly about mental health in their schools.
4 min read
Image of hands supporting one another. In the background are doodles of pressures, mental health, academics.
Laura Baker/Education Week with iStock/Getty