By Tori DeAngelis, American Psychological Association, October 1, 2022
At least 204,000 U.S. children and teens have lost parents and other in-home caregivers to COVID-19—more than 1 in every 360 youth, according to COVID Collaborative, an interdisciplinary group of experts that is raising awareness and support for COVID-bereaved children.
The growing number of children facing these tragedies highlights the pressing need for clinicians to become versed in helping them cope and ultimately lead fulfilling lives, say those who study and treat these youth. Basic clinical skills can go a long way, but because childhood grief is not a big focus in graduate school training, getting extra education in the area could be really helpful.
Fortunately, most children don’t need intensive therapy for these losses; many will adjust and fare well over time without clinical intervention, said Irwin Sandler, PhD, a professor emeritus and research professor at Arizona State University (ASU) who has studied childhood grief for more than 3 decades. But a significant subset of children, about 20%, “experience serious long-term problems, including long-term development of depression and long-term higher risk of suicide,” he said. Factors associated with this elevated risk include higher rates of psychiatric disorders in the child and/or parents, child maltreatment before the caregiver’s death, a greater number of stressful events, and less family support following the caregiver’s death, research shows.