At least 240,000 children in the United States have lost a parent or caregiver due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an Imperial College London's orphanhood calculator showed. However, more than two years into the pandemic the American political elite is showing little interest in confronting the issue.
Referred to as "pandemic orphans," these children are at increased risk of alcohol and substance abuse, dropping out of school, descending into poverty and committing suicide, according to studies.
Inflicting a secondary pain on these pandemic orphans is the lack of attention to their immense suffering and the lack of urgency by government officials at all levels to do something about it.
For a government that boasts of defending human rights, turning a blind eye to vulnerable children in its own country throws its credibility into doubt.
A memorandum issued in early April by U.S. President Joe Biden only vaguely promised to lend federal support to pandemic orphans, who appear to be included as "individuals and families experiencing a loss due to COVID-19."
Throughout the memorandum, which vows support for individuals and families suffering long-term effects of COVID-19, a clear and purposeful federal-level strategy to address COVID-19 orphanhood is nowhere to be found.
Reading between the lines of the presidential memorandum, one may also easily and regretfully discover that the White House has failed to present a plan to address the psychological challenges faced by the pandemic orphans. It is undeniable that psychological intervention is among the most vital kinds of help that orphans now need.
"Deprived of parental care, [orphans] can endure physical, psychological, emotional and social harm, with consequences that last a lifetime. These children are also more likely to experience violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation," read a July 2021 statement by Henrietta Fore, then executive director of UNICEF.
"To prevent and respond to this crisis for children in the immediate and long-term, it is vital that governments provide families with the emotional, practical and financial support they need," Fore said.
It may already be too late. Mary Wall, a senior policy adviser on the White House's COVID-19 Response Team who will serve as the "bereavement lead," told the Atlantic magazine that the program would not have a dedicated team.
Wall said additional funding might be needed at a certain point for the program to fulfill its aim. But in reality, Congress is so divided on approving additional COVID-related spending packages that lawmakers cannot even reach consensus on providing funding to ensure a continued supply of treatments, tests and vaccines — all basic resources needed in the fight against COVID-19.
A presidential strategy to combat the HIV epidemic, in which a big chunk of congressional appropriation is pledged for kids orphaned by AIDS, has been in place since 2003. But missing with COVID-19 orphans is a sense of responsibility and the will to help those hardest hit by the pandemic.
"If we wanted to focus on children at home, we could absolutely do that," said Rachel Kidman, a social epidemiologist at Stony Brook University. "The expertise is there if the will is there."
With another pandemic resurgence now pending, Congress has been preoccupied with funneling weapons and funds into Ukraine to help the country in the fighting that is half a globe away from the United States.
The situation is dire, and government inaction will needlessly prolong the immeasurable suffering of innocent children.
Unlike COVID cases that may rise and fall, orphanhood cannot come and go. Once orphaned, any sense of normalcy is gone forever.