About one in 450 children in the United States has lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19. A Santa Clara County elected official wants to make sure these kids aren’t forgotten.
Supervisor Susan Ellenberg will ask the county at Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting to establish a program to identify and support young people whose parents or guardians have died from the virus. Ellenberg said she’s not sure how many children are affected in Santa Clara County, but she’s alarmed by the national numbers.
“The stats for me were really disturbing,” Ellenberg told San Jose Spotlight. “So I wanted to make sure that we provided specific support to this group first.”
As of Monday, 2,082 people have died of COVID-19 in the county since the pandemic began, according to government data. In California, an estimated 26,891 children have lost a parent to COVID-19.
Ellenberg is also asking the county to expand wellness centers on school campuses. The Santa Clara County Office of Education operates 12 centers in 10 school districts, and in 2020 received a state grant to add more centers.
“Having access to on-campus wellness centers increases the likelihood that students will have access to mental health services by 21 times,” said San Jose director of health and wellness Dr. Chaunise Powell. be youth at the Santa Clara County Office of Education. Projector. “It also significantly reduces the stigma associated with seeking mental health services and increases attendance, likelihood of graduation, and decreases likelihood of dropout.”
Desperate for services
Advocates who support Ellenberg’s proposal say it has been difficult to meet the demand for mental health services at this time, and those needs are more acute for families who have lost relatives or caregivers.
“If you have a young person struggling with depression or anxiety, and you add to that the loss of their primary support, the person they love, it’s just devastating,” said Don Taylor, director Bay Area Executive of Uplift Family Services, San Jose Spotlight. “It takes a long time to heal from that.”
Uplift Family Services is the largest provider of behavioral health services for minors in Santa Clara County. Taylor said her agency helps families who have lost providers connect with vital resources, such as financial assistance to cover the cost of funerals. He said accessing services can be difficult for families following a death.
“Expanding wellness centers may be able to expand access points for families or children who don’t have resources or don’t know they’re there,” said Taylor.
Kathleen King, executive director of the Healthier Kids Foundation, told San Jose Spotlight that her organization screens hundreds of fifth graders for various health issues, including mental health, in high-need school districts such as Alum Rock Union School District and Franklin-McKinley School District.
She said recent data shows that around 2-3% of children struggle with serious mental health issues such as suicidal ideation. About 46% of children screened have borderline needs, which she says are still severe.
“It’s pretty drastic for kids,” King said, noting that in addition to mental health needs, her organization has tracked an alarming increase in the number of children needing dental care, such as filling cavities.
Ellenberg also wants to increase the county’s early childhood education and child care offerings. In 2020, the county approved $2.5 million to fund child care programs in the county using federal relief funds.
Despite that help, the child care industry has been devastated by the pandemic — according to county data from December last year, 12.5% of providers in the county have closed in the past 18 months. This reduced the total number of licensed early learning and child care workers by 10% and left about 7,000 children without child care.
“We now see that it is a particularly difficult challenge that falls primarily on women, for mothers to return to work if they do not have adequate and affordable childcare options,” Ellenberg said.
The Supervisory Board meets on tuesday 9:30 a.m. Learn to watch and participate.
Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] Where @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.
This story will be updated.
Editor’s Note: Kathleen King is a member of the San Jose Spotlight Board of Directors.