COVID-19 is increasingly risky with age such that children may develop mild symptoms while their parents and grandparents are often much sicker and may die. While Australia has, to date, been fortunate in terms of death rates, other countries are less so, which raises the issue of the care of bereaved children.
Scant literature is available, except for a paper from the Danish Cancer Research Centre, Copenhagen which was published in 2018. The study, which followed all Danish children born between 1970 and 1995, explored ‘the association between parental loss before the age of 18 years and the formation and dissolution of marriage and cohabitation relationships in adulthood’ and attempted to identify potentially vulnerable subgroups based on the age of the child and sex and cause of death of the parent. The results indicated that ‘parental loss was associated with a higher rate of relationship formation for young women, but not young men, and higher rates of separation for both men and women’, with death by suicide having the strongest association. While the authors concede that the effects are relatively small, they recommend intervention to support the surviving parent, strengthen the parent-child bond and enhance capacity for emotion regulation.
Where children lose more than one significant attachment figure in a world where stability and safety are seriously threatened, such support becomes even more essential.
Lim Høeg, B. et al (2018) Early Parental Loss and Intimate Relationships in Adulthood: A Nationwide Study Developmental Psychology, Vol. 54, No. 5, 963–974