Pandemic Orphans: The Crisis Within the Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic has created another crisis with ripple effects that could last generations: Huge numbers of children have become orphans as a result of losing one or both parents, or a primary caretaker, to the virus.
Research shows that many of these orphaned children will struggle into adulthood, facing greater risk of drug use, dropping out of school, malnutrition, and mental health issues, including depression and suicide.
More than a million children worldwide have lost a mother, father, grandparent, or other caretaker to the coronavirus, according to global estimates by a team of researchers. In the U.S., more than 200,000 children have lost their primary caregiver during the pandemic. Parental death due to COVID-19 is now responsible for one out of every 12 orphans in America.
The scale of COVID-associated orphanhood is so large that experts are comparing it to the AIDS epidemic that ravaged sub-Saharan Africa in the 2000s and left millions of orphaned children in its wake.
This crisis within the crisis hits home for us at For The Children. We serve thousands of children and teens who are also living without parents. But most of these kids haven’t lost a parent due to a devastating illness like COVID-19.
It’s a devastation of a different sort.
We work with children in foster care who have experienced abuse and/or neglect—most often while under the care of their parents. As a result, they have been separated from their families for their own safety and placed into foster homes.
While they may not be actual “orphans,” their reality is very similar to the children who have lost parents during the pandemic—except that these children have endured what we call family-induced childhood trauma, often for years. And they will experience many of the same struggles with drug use, mental health, academic achievement and employment that we see in orphaned children.
Similarly, the pandemic also created a perfect storm for these children. With schools closed nationwide at the height of the COVID crisis, millions of kids were left to fend for themselves without the supervision of teachers, coaches, counselors and other authority figures who are mandated by law to report signs of child abuse. Stay-at-home orders forced many children to spend more time with their abusers in an atmosphere of greater economic stress and uncertainty.
As a result, physical abuse of school-aged kids tripled during the pandemic. The most common injury identified was head injury, followed by a mix of chest, abdomen, extremity and burn injuries. The most common perpetrators were parents.
Just like enduring the catastrophic loss of a parent, this kind of relational trauma has insidious psychological effects including complex PTSD, depression, and a profound mistrust in adults.
But there’s hope for these children. Years of research has shown that children who face trauma early in life can be healed by providing an environment that is stable, safe, and nurturing. They need adults in their lives that can consistently provide loving attention while modeling healthy relationships.
That’s where we come in. For The Children builds bridges between organizations of faith and children in foster care. Studies show that faith has a marked beneficial effect on both physical and psychological healing. By partnering with local churches, we are able to tap into the stability, tolerance for crisis, and supportive community that faith engenders.
We train our volunteers and staff to use the Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) method. TBRI is a proven method for demonstrating to vulnerable and often traumatized children in foster care that their physical and emotional needs can be met. We are drawn to the TBRI method in part because it was developed at a summer camp not unlike our own Royal Family KIDS Camps, where we provide a transformational experience for abused and neglected children.
Over 150,000 children have participated in our mentoring and camp programs, and that number increases every year. Through over 250 chapters across the U.S. and globe, we provide unconditional love, hope and safety for children who might otherwise face a lifetime of mental, emotional and physical challenges.
Will you join us in this cause? We are currently raising $10,000 to support the psychological well-being of 10,000 of the most vulnerable children in foster care. Donate today to help us break the endless cycle of trauma.
Please also consider becoming a volunteer or mentor, or starting an FTC chapter in your community.
All FTC chapters meet our international accreditation safety and compliance standards.