Health & Wellness

The silent pandemic: the children COVID left behind

The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on caregiver loss

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in May 2022. See the update at the end of the article for the latest information.

Hannah’s story, a “slow progression of doom”

As 22-year-old Hannah Kim walked across the graduation stage at California State University, Los Angeles, she looked for her friends and younger brother, Joseph, 17, in the distant crowd. Unable to spot their faces, she smiled and sent a wave in their direction before shaking hands and accepting her diploma.

While other students around her celebrated and hugged their families, Hannah longed to embrace the two people she always imagined would be there for her commencement: her parents.

“I was really sad,” Hannah recalled. “Not having parents around – that’s really tough. It’s not what I imagined or pictured.”

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Before the onset of the pandemic, Hannah was a typical college student – going to classes, hanging out with friends on campus, and finishing up finals season. In the fall of 2019, the only time Hannah even remembers hearing about the virus was when a professor demonstrated the spread of sickness using COVID-19 as a model. Now, more than two years later, Hannah still remembers her warnings.

“She was like, ‘It’s not going to be a short time. It’s going to be really, really long,’” Hannah said, adding that her classmates shrugged off the warning in disbelief. “We were like, ‘That’s not true.’”

Hannah went home in December to her family’s apartment in Koreatown for winter break, never imagining how quickly her life would change. At first, she was happy to have “one more week of break.” But one week turned into two – and then came a total lockdown. The first wave of COVID-19 cases arrived in California in January 2020, just a few days after Cal State LA began the spring semester. Hannah never returned to in-person classes.

Hannah didn’t mind quarantine at first. In fact, she liked being home. The Kims were a close-knit family, in both relationship and proximity. They shared a small, two-bedroom apartment in Koreatown — with Hannah and her mom, Eun-Ju in one room and Joseph in the other with their father, Timothy.

“We just hunkered down at home and didn’t do much,” Hannah said. “My mom would go up to get groceries and my dad didn’t really go to work. But, you know, we have to somehow try to pay bills. And I think at that time, my dad was very anxious about it. We were trying to apply for unemployment, emergency grants, all that stuff.”

Her 68-year-old father had a modest acupuncture practice and served as a pastor for L.A. Nasung Church in La Crescenta. The Kim family had lived paycheck to paycheck long before the pandemic began, Hannah said, and Timothy worried aloud about how not working would affect the family’s finances. The family begged him not to risk exposure. But he insisted on seeing his patients twice during the quarantine period, promising to take all necessary precautions and wear a face shield over his face mask.

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In April, tight on space and money, the Kims brought Eun-Ju’s mother into their Koreatown home after a Korean radio station warned the public about the dangers of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, telling families to bring their grandparents home. Hannah’s grandmother, Soon Sun, 85, who had dementia, lived at the Olympia Convalescent Center for more than five years.

“We had to put her in our living room because we didn’t have a separate room for her,” Hannah said.

Eun-Ju was one of three siblings, but with Soon Sun’s other children living in New York and Washington, the responsibility fell on Hannah’s mom to care for her. Initially, Hannah was angry at her mother for bringing Soon Sun into their home without getting her COVID-19 tested first.

When Soon Sun arrived, she had no COVID-19 symptoms. But illness quickly entered the Kims’ home in what Hannah describes as “a slow progression of doom.” Timothy started showing symptoms soon after Soon Sun arrived, but was reluctant to get a test.

“I remember fighting with him about that and being really frustrated,” Hannah said, adding that her father was afraid of knowing the results and believed there was nothing to be done if he tested positive. “‘I’m just going to face my death’ is kind of exactly what he said.”

Even though they were still confined to the two-bedroom apartment, Hannah didn’t see much of her father while he was sick. She would FaceTime her father from a wall away and drop off food at his door, but he instructed her not to come inside the bedroom. He wanted to shield her and her brother from COVID-19, but also the pain of witnessing his health decline.

Ultimately, both Hannah’s grandmother and father tested positive for COVID-19 in April with Eun-Ju also showing signs of serious illness. Sick patients through the nursing home and Timothy’s acupuncture practice, Hannah believes, were the cause of the family’s exposure.

The rest of the family tested positive later that month, including Hannah and her little brother. After receiving a positive test herself, Hannah began to spend time with her father without her mother knowing. She would sneak in to see him when her mom went out for groceries, bringing him cut-up fruit and making conversation to pass the time. Hannah asked what he was watching, what was on his mind, and “argue about the COVID test.”

On April 22 — Hannah’s 22nd birthday — things took a turn for the worse. Her grandma’s health went into a rapid decline and she developed a fever of 99-101 degrees. Already on hospice care, there was little to be done for Soon Sun and the illness began to take over her already failing body.

Hannah and her mom worried that if they sent Soon Sun to the hospital, there was a chance they wouldn’t see her again. But on April 27, they realized that if they didn’t call, Hannah’s grandma was going to pass away.

Soon Sun was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital and immediately put on a ventilator.

The doom Hannah sensed at first accelerated to a rapid decline in a matter of days.

“After my grandma went to the hospital, my dad had to call an ambulance for himself. I woke up at six o’clock that morning, my eyes sealed shut because of the tears that I had shed the night before. I sensed a sinister panic when I heard the ambulance sirens coming closer and closer to my apartment. Before the medics came, I ran to my dad’s room. He was sitting on his desk chair, limp as a noodle, staring at me with worry and panic. My nightmare was playing out right before my eyes,” Hannah wrote in a published journal through a project with the Koreatown Youth and Community Center and The Eisner Foundation.

Timothy had called an ambulance for himself after COVID-19 symptoms caused a sleepless night. Hannah helped her father to the ambulance as he struggled to breathe. In a devastating domino effect, Eun-Ju’s symptoms became so severe that Hannah took her mother to the ER the same day. With no beds available, Hannah and her mom were sent home from Good Samaritan hospital where she began coughing up blood. Eun-Ju was finally admitted to the hospital the next morning after hours of waiting.

By the end of April, Hannah and Joseph found themselves alone in the once crowded apartment while Soon Sun, Timothy, and Eun-Ju battled COVID at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Hannah’s grandma died at age 85 one week after being admitted to the hospital. Soon Sun died alone, her daughter and son-in-law in the same building, in separate hospital rooms.

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For the next month, Hannah became the caretaker for her brother and her parents, splitting time between the home and Good Samaritan. While Hannah took care of things at the hospital, Joseph managed things at home, doing chores and looking after the Kims’ two dogs.

“I didn’t really want him to be too involved in the hospital setting. I didn’t want to break his heart even more,” Hannah said.

At home, Joseph was holding on tight, taking care of as much as he could while relying on Hannah to communicate the status of their parents. The two of them depended on each other and the help of the community to get by.

One major source of comfort and aid was the Mijoo Peace Church, which Hannah had attended for over 10 years.

“They’re basically family,” she said. “They kind of created a system where one person would come for lunch and dinner or one person would drop off breakfast. And then at one point, there was too much food and I was just like, ‘Please don’t bring you here for like at least a week or two weeks because this is going crazy,’” Hannah said with a tender smile.

Adding to the relief was the Koreatown Youth and Community Center (KYCC), where Hannah was a Graphic Design intern. Her supervisor and mentor, Katherine Kim, started a GoFundMe page to alleviate some financial stress and focus on the health of their parents.

Between hospital visits, caring for her little brother, and juggling her coursework, Hannah struggled to keep her head above water.

“I was definitely on autopilot, just doing the responsibilities. I didn’t want to face the fact that they might pass. And then for a very short time, I was in denial,” she said. But Hannah couldn’t be in that denial for long, because the health of her parents declined so rapidly — especially her father.

In May, while other 22-year-olds put on their caps and gowns, Hannah was putting on protective gear to visit her parents in the intensive care unit.

In May, while other 22-year-olds put on their caps and gowns, Hannah was putting on protective gear to visit her parents in the intensive care unit.

“It just felt so cold,” Hannah said of the ICU. “It’s not a nice setting. It’s so blue and silver, really gray…I [couldn’t] even touch my dad skin to skin.”

By Mother’s Day, both of her parents were admitted to the ICU. But Timothy, who was diabetic, deteriorated much more rapidly.

Seeing her parents required an immense amount of clearance. After Hannah signed in as a hospital visitor, she would wait for a specific doctor or nurse to give her access to the ICU, an extremely timely process. Hannah was then armored with gloves, a face shield and a face mask, a hairnet, and boots.

The hospital forbade the use of cell phones but made one exception: a Zoom call to allow Timothy to say his final words.

“I remember he started crying because it was kind of our last goodbye, that phone call. I didn’t know it was,” she said. “I’ve never seen my dad cry and that was the one time he did.”

In the last moments with his children, Timothy offered words of love, advice, and encouragement through a screen. He died May 21 at 68 years old.

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“I remember he started crying because it was kind of our last goodbye, that phone call. I didn’t know it was,” she said. “I’ve never seen my dad cry and that was the one time he did.”

Hannah and Joseph barely had time to mourn the loss of their grandmother and father before their mother’s health required their attention.

Throughout her care, language was a barrier between Eun-Ju and the hospital staff, stacking “translator” on top of the many hats Hannah was already wearing.

“She would be like, ‘Please call the nurse, because every time I call them, they won’t come. As many times as I call them they will not come. They don’t understand what I’m saying,’” Hannah said. “She spoke a little bit of English, [but] I think because she had so many devices on her, they didn’t understand what she was saying.”

Eun-Ju had a tube in her nose to help her breathe, Hannah said, which often became blocked because of buildup. Although she tried her best to tell them, no one understood when Eun-Ju tried to explain the respiratory impediment, leaving Hannah to swab and clean her mother’s nose. Seeing her in this helpless state was a far cry from the mother Hannah once knew.

“She was a health nut, for sure,” Hannah said. “But my dad, he was diabetic. He was not the healthiest man. So I [understood] if he were to get sick, It would be easier for him to decline. But my mom, she had no previous illnesses or anything… she had a really hard life and I think she worked really hard and she had a lot of stress. She was a petite person and so I think that really sent her over the edge.”

Eun-Ju fought hard and was released from the ICU at the end of May, a brief glimmer of hope for the Kim children which quickly dimmed. She had recovered from COVID-19, but the virus left her lungs with irreparable damage. She was placed on a ventilator to wait for a new chance at life by way of a double-lung transplant. After being rejected by UCLA Medical Center, Hannah’s mother was admitted on June 19 to USC Keck Hospital.

The next day, Eun-Ju underwent a tracheostomy, creating an alternative airway for breathing. But the procedure didn’t take. Not even two weeks after the procedure, Hannah said, the doctor started talking to her about pulling the plug.

Doctors said Eun-Ju would not survive a transplant in her condition, telling Hannah “it’s not worth the lungs.”

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Hannah started to feel like she was fighting for her mom’s life. She would stay in the hospital with her mother until they would kick her out, each time pleading for just one more hour.

Eun-Ju lost her battle with COVID-19 on July 14.

“I just felt really cornered. Just very ‘Why me? Why our family out of all the families in Koreatown? So many other people are going out and they’re not getting sick. Why did my whole family get sick and why did I — I’m literally an orphan, my brother is an orphan,” she said.

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As Hannah and Joseph processed the loss of their last living caretaker, their landlords backed them even further into the corner.

In early 2020, before the virus plagued her family, the apartment complex where the Kims lived was sold to new owners that intended to tear down the four-unit apartment building.

“They gave us an eviction notice while we were in quarantine, while we were all at home,” Hannah said. But her family anticipated a payout and held off on moving. Then, the week Hannah’s mom died, they came back, demanding Hannah and Joseph vacate the apartment, threatening to demolish the building while they were in it. Hannah went to the Los Angeles Housing Department for answers. Eventually, the new property owners paid Hannah and Joseph to move out, forcing them out of their family home the week after their mother’s death.

With the help of friends, the siblings found a new apartment where they tried to adjust to a new normal. The two finished their senior years online — Hannah completing her Bachelor’s in her room while Joseph finished his high school course requirements in his.

“Any type of routine or distraction is so much better than being lost in the silence of your own thoughts. Being in silence with your own thoughts is very scary,” she said.

“I don’t know how it was for my brother, but I did appreciate having like a routine after that. I like school, it was just harder.”

Despite the immense adversity, both Joseph and Hannah graduated in 2021. Their commencement ceremonies were pushed back because of the pandemic, both eventually taking place within the same week.

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Life never stopped for the Kim siblings. In the days immediately after graduation, Hannah accepted and started her new job and her brother moved out of their apartment and moved across the country to Dartmouth on a full-ride scholarship.

Hannah is still in LA, though now she lives alone. She is the junior designer for Copa Vida Coffee Roasters and is still processing her pain.

“I think it traumatized me. I don’t mean to sound depressing, but there’s like a void in my heart. For a while I was trying to fill it with such temporary things,” she said, adding that she sought comfort from a brief relationship. ”I wanted to fill the void of being comforted and having security with a guy who will never be able to do that because I want this comfort and security from my parents…. [a relationship] will never be able to give it to me.”

As she continues to process her pain, Hannah has found strength and solace in her Christian faith. She clings to the hope of God and the knowledge that her parents are in heaven, she said, but she continues to wrestle with her pain.

“I’m arguing with God right now,” she said, adding that she is begging God for a ‘win’ right now. “I think I’m being a little bit more honest with God and honest with my feelings.”

Hannah and Joseph are not alone. Two years into the pandemic, more than 200,000 children in the U.S. — about one in 360 — have lost a parent or primary caregiver to COVID-19. Of those, nearly 16,000 of them have lost their only in-home caregiver.

Many public health experts are concerned that these children are suffering perhaps the most silent effects of the pandemic. Rita Burke, who specialized in public health responses to disasters, pandemics and childhood trauma at the USC Keck School of Medicine, said COVID-19 orphanhood is “not on the radar” because children were not the demographic predominantly contracting the virus. The pandemic policy response to date has centered on containing the spread of the virus, preventing deaths and helping the economy — largely ignoring the group of highly vulnerable children who have lost a parent or caregiver.

In December, a coalition of leading health, education, and economic experts called the COVID Collaborative turned its attention to these children. Their report, titled “Hidden Pain,” provides estimates of the number of children who have lost a caregiver and offers a blueprint for their care and support.

“The racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 caregiver loss exceed the already horrifying disparities in COVID-19 deaths,” said Dan Treglia, an expert contributor to the COVID Collaborative and an associate professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

Enduring health disparities and social inequities have put minority communities at greater risk for COVID infection and mortality.

Non-white children lost caregiving adults at higher rates than their white peers. American Indian and Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander children experienced the highest rate of loss at about 3.5 times the rate of white children, Black and Hispanic children at nearly twice the rate of white children; and Asian children at 1.4 times that of white children.

While vaccination reduces the risk of severe illness, some racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white people — a result of the many social, geographic, political, economic and environmental factors that create challenges to vaccination access and acceptance, according to the CDC.

“Because they’re unvaccinated, they are more susceptible to dying from COVID,” Burke said. “As a result, their children are left without their parents, so that kind of shows in sequence the consequence of not getting vaccinated.”

These disparities are compounded by the fact that non-white populations are much more likely to be working low-wage, higher-risk positions that might be considered essential, Treglia said. He emphasized that these positions were facing the public during the initial waves of the pandemic before basic personal protective equipment was readily available, and when anyone who could be working from home was doing so.

This increased risk extends beyond essential workers to their families and other household members. Black, Native American, and Hispanic/Latinx people are more likely to have household compositions that increase the risks of COVID-19 exposure and transmission, according to a report by the Urban Institute. Such households are more likely to include an in-person, close-proximity worker, at least two generations of adults, and children requiring care or supervision while parents work.

“People that are working in lower-wage and higher risk positions are the ones that have the least space to quarantine if someone gets sick or to separate themselves from the public to prevent infection of any household members in the first place,” Treglia said. “Because you have more household members in a small space, there’s a much greater likelihood of not only bringing that infection home but then spreading it to others. And you could see multiple deaths within the same household. "

In their two-bedroom Koreatown apartment, the Kim family had no space to spread out. The close quarters became even closer when Hannah’s grandma moved in March of 2020, an added risk on top of her father’s work as an acupuncturist.

“I think if we had different options or if we were spread out more, it’s not like my whole family would have disappeared,” Hannah said.

Because of the disproportionate risk facing these households, Treglia said the “Hidden Pain” report intentionally looks beyond biological relationships when estimating the number of COVID-bereaved children.

Mapping by Mapline

Half of the total caregiver loss from COVID-19 was concentrated in five of the country’s most populous states, starting with California, which had 26,891; Texas, with 25,630; New York, with 12,784; Florida, 12,533; and Georgia, 6,391.

“California and New York, two of the top three states, are places where the pandemic hit earliest before we were very prepared,” Treglia said. “They have very large populations, which is going to be a predictor of total COVID-19 deaths and caregiver deaths as a result. They also have large, nonwhite, diverse populations in urban settings. That’s going to increase the vulnerability of already marginalized populations.”

Racial and ethnic disparities carried over into the age concentrations as well. Though children of all ages were affected, 70 percent of caregiver loss—143,460—was concentrated in children below the age of 14. Older children had the highest rate of caregiver loss, which is to be expected as older children have older caregivers. But, in keeping with the trend of health inequities, caregiver deaths are occurring at much younger ages in nonwhite groups, meaning they’re much more likely to have a child who is left behind.

Globally, more than 5.2 million children have been orphaned or lost a caregiver due to COVID-19 as of October 2021, according to a modeling study published in the medical journal Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

In a March 2022 interview, Dr. Charles Nelson, who co-authored the report, said the estimates are now approaching 6 million children worldwide.

Even Nelson, a Harvard professor of pediatrics and psychiatry, was stunned by the magnitude of this problem.

“Just the sheer number of them — we were shocked,” Nelson said. “No one thought it was going to be such a big figure. It’s slowed down now. But until Omnicron, it was linear.”

While other countries have experience dealing with mass orphanhood — HIV and tuberculosis have killed millions of parents from Southeast Asia to East Africa — the U.S. has never dealt with caregiver loss of this magnitude.

Though COVID-19 bereavement is a recent phenomenon, children losing a parent is not. About five percent of U.S. children lose a parent by the age of 15 and researchers have a good sense of the consequences of caregiver bereavement. They include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, lower rates of academic attainment and higher dropout rates, higher rates of alcohol and other substances, suicide, and reduced employment.

In October 2021, three leading child health care organizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in children’s mental health, saying COVID-19 exacerbated the pre-pandemic crisis.

“Not only do we have a deficit of supply [of mental healthcare], but now there’s this excess of demand,” Treglia said. “So we have these two forces coming together to produce a severe deficiency in our ability to provide for these children that are facing the biggest crises of their life.”

The politicization of COVID-19 hindered health-protective behaviors in the U.S., causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

“I think we’re going to have to deal with unresolved grief in many kids,” Nelson said, citing the Trump-era politics that initially downplayed the severity of the virus. “Complicated grief in many cases. And the quicker and the more resources we put into this, the better the long-term outcome of these kids.”

Nelson worries the question of whose responsibility it is versus who is paying for the care of COVID orphans will immediately become a political issue, with some arguing the federal government has no role in this and others saying that it should be a centralized response from the federal government.

Estimates of caregiver loss are an important first step to creating a systematic effort to provide care for COVID bereaved children, but many questions remain unanswered.

“What is happening to them?” Treglia asks, “What is the consequence of losing a parent or a caregiver in this moment? We don’t have a great sense of that — that’s something that we’re hoping policymakers, the research community, and nonprofits can all come together to be able to answer because we think it’s important. We need national, state, and local plans to provide support for these children. But we’re not there yet.”

The Hidden Pain report commands action with three categories: Identify COVID-bereaved children, offer community support, and provide financial relief.

Over the last two years, roughly $5 trillion in pandemic stimulus was poured into the U.S. economy, the largest government relief effort in history. Of the trillions of COVID-relief dollars spent thus far, not even a penny has been used to care specifically for pandemic orphans.

When asked why children have been left out of the conversation and continue to be overlooked in COVID-19 relief planning, Nelson said he couldn’t give a “non-glib answer.”

“We don’t usually care about kids in this country,” he said. “What it comes down to is that kids have never been a priority despite politicians’ pronouncements. You always have the picture of the politician kissing the baby on the ground when they’re campaigning and all that. But the reality is we’ve never had very child-friendly policies.”

In an April presidential memorandum addressing the long-term effects of COVID-19, the Biden administration promised that federal agencies will publish a report outlining how they will support “individuals experiencing long COVID, individuals and families experiencing a loss due to COVID-19.”

Mary C. Wall, a senior policy adviser on the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team who will serve as the “bereavement lead,” recently told The Atlantic that the effort won’t have a dedicated team and will be focused on raising awareness about existing resources for families rather than implementing initiatives that would require new funds. At some point, Wall said, the program might request additional funding, but that ask could run into problems, given that Congress struggled to reach a deal for even basic COVID-fighting supplies such as treatments, tests, and vaccines.

In California, Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkley, introduced The Hope for Children Act In January. The “baby bonds” bill will create state-issued trust fund accounts for children who lost their parent or primary caregiver to COVID-19 and for permanent foster youth.

The state would deposit up to $4,000 for eligible children up to age 9 and up to $8,000 for youth ages 10-17.

While a small number of other states have proposed baby bond bills, California is the first to consider legislation with a specific focus on children who lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19 and eligible foster youth.

“The senator knew that these families needed immediate help after coming out of two-plus years of this pandemic and something so tragic that was out of everyone’s control,” said Kapri Walker, a Legislative Aide in the California State Senate.

Though the bill differentiates between the groups, many COVID orphans have now become a part of the foster system.

“If there are family members who are willing and can take them in, that is the best option because it’s familiar to the children,” Burke said. “Family members can provide that continuity and support they so desperately need in order to be able to get through a trauma like that. If family members are not available, then the foster system is the next best option, and we know of the complications and the challenges that that can pose for children.”

Thirty-one percent of California foster youth go on to experience homelessness. Yesenia Jimenez, a Policy Associate with GRACE End Child Poverty Campaign, said this is a failure of the state to ensure these children have the resources they need to fully transition into adulthood.

“Our hope is not necessarily that children who lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19 get routed to the foster care system,” Jimenez said. “Even in our own state, [the foster system] is not something that necessarily is creating a supportive network for our children.”

The Hope Act gives eligible children individual access to the trust fund accounts by the time that they turn 18, without setting limitations on what the money can be used for.

“These children need to be provided support from our government because otherwise, we’re contributing to generational cycles of poverty,” she said, adding that the legislation is a call for action nationwide to address the disproportionate impact facing communities of color and ensure the lives of these children don’t go unnoticed.

Bereaved children, especially low-income bereaved children, and those involved in the child welfare system, Teglia said, are more likely to lack the critical resources for success into adulthood.

Without financial support from the community, Hannah said it would have been nearly impossible to take care of her family.

“If I honestly didn’t have that, I think I would have been homeless or something,” said Hannah. “So I think that’s it is very, very important, especially for those people who never got any acknowledgment or publicity or any help.”

“Providing a bit of a nest egg for them when they turn 18 is critical,” said Treglia of the HOPE Act. “We need to provide for them now and we need to provide for them into the future as well.”

Jimenez said their ultimate goal is to expand the Hope Savings Accounts to all California children born into poverty.

The Hope Act passed the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on April 20 by a vote of 4-1. It now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Author’s note and update as of August 2022:

Since the initial completion of this reporting in May 2022, cases of COVID-19 have continued to rise, and with them, the number of COVID-19 orphans. There are now an estimated 32,219 children in California who have lost a parent or primary caregiver to the virus. The rate of caregiver loss was 3.43 times higher among children of racial and ethnic minorities compared to non-Hispanic white children. Nationwide, an esteemed 268,707 children lost a primary or secondary caregiver due to the virus.

As cases have progressed, the fight to care for the children left behind gained traction.

On June 30, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $308 billion state budget which allocates $100 million to start the California Hope, Opportunity, Perseverance, and Empowerment (HOPE) for Children Trust Account Fund program, and an “ongoing $15 million General Fund component is budgeted to specifically aid children in foster care,” according to the budget.

”Initially we had been hoping for upwards of $300 million to set up the account where the investment, the initial deposit for these accounts, was at a rate of like $4,000-$8,000 to ensure that they actually grow at a significant rate over time and it would be a substantial fund once the children become adults,” Yesenia Jimenez said in a June interview. “All that to say, we’ve been excited about the $115 million included because this is very much seen as a starting point. And so I think there is a recognition that there will be more opportunities to continue to build on this initial investment.”

While other baby bond programs are being set up across the country, California is the first to approve legislation with a specific focus on children who lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19. Jimenez is hopeful the program will serve as a launching point for a more expansive baby bond program.

”We want to make sure that we can actually end child poverty and not just do Band-Aid solutions. We want to come back and hopefully, the governor agrees. And, you know, this is a program that can be sustained throughout every single budget.”

Additional note: This piece was updated to correctly reflect Dan Treglia’s role at the COVID Collaborative.