More than 1500 Australian children may have lost parents to Covid – The Guardian

For every 100 Covid-related deaths in Australia, around 13 young people lost one or both of their parents, ANU study finds
More than 1,500 Australian children may have lost a parent to Covid-19 during the pandemic, according to new estimates.
A global study by the Australian National University, based on 2021 data, calculated that for every 100 Covid-related deaths in Australia, about 13 people under the age of 18 lost one or both of their parents.
Given Australia has had more than 13,000 Covid-related deaths during the pandemic, that means about 1,700 children would have lost at least one parent.
The rate calculated for Australia was much lower than for some other countries, but ANU researcher Callum Lowe said the effects of the loss on children had largely been missing from the nation’s broader conversation about mental health during the pandemic.
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“It’s particularly worse in other countries, but in other countries children tend to have larger extended families than they do in Australia,” Lowe said.
“During Australia’s lockdowns there’s [also] been a greater restriction on children going to school.”
The orphanhood figures for Australia were extrapolated by ANU from global estimates. Researchers looked at the distribution of mortality for Covid and the ages of parents to estimate the number of orphans. Of Australia’s Covid-related deaths, only about 800 have been in people between the ages of 20 and 60.
Lowe said the calculation method would create “an inherent cause of variation”, but believed the figures were “fairly accurate”.
Alexandra Martiniuk, an epidemiologist at the University of Sydney, said that based on current data on Covid deaths around the world, the ANU figures represented the “best estimate we’re probably going to get”.
Dr Michael Lydeamore, an infectious disease modeller and epidemiologist with Monash University in Melbourne, said there was no data to enable a comparison with the number of children who lost parents for non-Covid-related reasons.
But he said the number of children who lost parents due to Covid was “definitely higher” than those whose parents died for other reasons.
Lowe said more support was needed for children who lost a parent or became orphaned during the pandemic, with those children facing unique mental health challenges and potentially “worse outcomes later in life”.
“We typically think of Covid deaths predominantly among the elderly [but] they can and do occur in younger adults, people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, and as such those are the deaths that are going to lead to children being orphaned,” he said.
“The research highlights the need for government resources and policy settings that ensure children affected by the death of one or both parents are properly supported, particularly in vulnerable populations like First Nations and rural communities.”
The impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on people’s mental health has been well documented, especially among young people.
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In a survey released by the Australian Human Rights Commission, 41% of children said the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health, with most respondents worried about missing school and having less time with their friends and family.
The ANU research found fertility rates, poverty and noncommunicable disease were contributory factors to variable international rates of children losing parents to Covid, as well as vaccine disparity.
Some of the countries most affected were in Africa, particularly in countries that were below the median GDP per capita.
Martiniuk said the global study was important for future pandemic planning, and to make sure vaccines were distributed as equitably and as quickly as possible.
“We also need to recognise that [orphanhood] has been happening around HIV-Aids, tuberculosis and other diseases,” she said. “Anything we do for Covid and children who have been orphaned [because of] Covid, we should remember that these are things we should be doing … to support orphans due to other diseases as well.”
A modelling study in the Lancet shows more than 5.2 million children across the globe have been impacted by Covid-related orphanhood and caregiver death.
This article was amended on 2 September 2022 to clarify the workings of the ANU study and add supporting material from other experts. The headline was also changed to more accurately represent the study’s findings.
In Australia, children, young adults, parents and teachers can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. Support is also available at Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 and Lifeline on 13 11 14. In the UK, the charity Mind is available on 0300 123 3393 and Childline on 0800 1111. In the US, Mental Health America is available on 800-273-8255. Other sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International


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