Children, Coping With Loss, Are Pandemic’s ‘Forgotten Grievers’

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, Kirsten Allen, said the administration “has made a number of investments and launched several initiatives covering a wide range of mental health priorities — including support for children who have lost parents.”

She cited the surgeon general’s advisory and the expansion of several existing programs. In May, for example, the department announced it was releasing $14.2 million, allocated by Congress through the American Rescue Plan, to expand access to pediatric mental health care. The rescue plan also provided money for suicide prevention programs and a program to improve care and access to services for “traumatized children.”

John Bridgeland, the collaborative’s founder and chief executive officer, said expanding existing programs was not enough. “We need a focused effort to help the unbearable loss of these 167,000 children,” he said.

Losing a parent or a caregiver is hard for a child in ordinary times. But experts in grief counseling and school officials say the pandemic has exacted a particular toll.

“The death of a parent is something that we deal with all the time — not just with Covid,” said Susan Gezon Morgan, a school nurse in Emmett, Idaho, a small city outside Boise. “But I think the fact that Covid is in the news and so sudden, and oftentimes it’s a young parent, that it seems so much more traumatizing.”

In a small community like Emmett, where everyone knows everyone else, Ms. Morgan said, the grief cuts both ways. Grieving children lose their privacy, but they also have a tight-knit community to provide support. In big cities, it is another story.

Mr. Jackson, of Reisterstown, Md., just outside Baltimore, is home-schooling his daughter, Akeerah, in part because he fears her peers will be insensitive, encouraging her to “just get over” her loss.