Study: Over 3,200 Mich. kids lost a caregiver to COVID, hitting Black families hardest

By: - October 21, 2021 11:11 am

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More than 3,200 children in Michigan experienced the death of a primary caregiver due to COVID-19 over the first 15 months of the pandemic, disproportionately affecting Hispanic and Black children in the state. 

A recent study from the Journal of Pediatrics, which looked at data from April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, found that more than 140,000 children nationwide have lost a parent or caregiver, totaling about one of every four COVID-19-associated deaths.

“The magnitude of COVID-19-associated parent and caregiver death suggests effective responses should combine equitable access to vaccines with evidence-based programs for bereaved children, focusing on areas with greatest disparities,” wrote Susan Hillis, senior technical advisor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 International Task Force and the study’s lead author.

In Michigan, an estimated 3,237 children had experienced the death of a caregiver, and that number has likely grown since June. The study notes that the total number of children affected in Michigan may range from 3,142 to 3,347 due to underreporting of deaths or delay in data. 

“The impact that this will have on children’s opportunities in their development is of great concern for everybody,” said Matt Gillard, CEO of Michigan’s Children, a Lansing-based nonprofit focused on children’s advocacy.

“These numbers that are stated in the study are certainly alarming and I think need to be addressed and be talked about so that policymakers and decision-makers understand that we’re going to need public investments in a lot of different areas to support kids and families, as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Research shows that losing a mother, father, grandparent or other primary caregiver in childhood is one of the most significant adverse childhood experiences (ACE). The CDC said that it is linked to mental health problems; lower education; lower self-esteem; sexual risk behaviors; and higher risk of substance abuse, suicide, violence, sexual abuse and exploitation.

Michigan has one of the highest numbers of children who have lost a caregiver in the country, only behind California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, Ohio and New Jersey — most of which have greater populations than Michigan. 

Number of children who have lost a primary caregiver nationwide | Journal of Pediatrics graphic

The state reported Wednesday that COVID-19 has infected 1,097,129 Michiganders and 21,744 total residents have now died. Michigan’s Black and Hispanic communities have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic with greater COVID-19 spread and higher death rates. 

The number of children being infected by COVID-19 is rising as many students return to in-person learning, but adults still make up the majority of COVID-19-related deaths.

Black children accounted for 40% of those who lost a primary caregiver in Michigan, 1,322 total, even though just 14% of Michigan’s population is Black. Hispanic children make up 314 of those in Michigan who lost a primary caregiver. 

“We have a lot of grandparents in our Black community who are raising kids as the primary caregiver,” said Gillard. “When you have more grandparents being the primary caregiver for children, you’re going to have more children in that community then who have lost a primary caregiver as a result of COVID. There’s a lot of issues that go into that, all of them needing to be addressed.”


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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.