Santa Clara Co. proposal aims to provide mental health care to children who've lost parents to COVID

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- More than 912,000 Americans have died from COVID. Dealing with grief is difficult for surviving family members, especially for children who lose a parent or close relative who cared for them.

Efforts are underway both nationally and here in the Bay Area to provide those children with much-needed mental health care.

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COVID deaths have taken the lives of spouses, siblings, parents and children. Perhaps forgotten is that an estimated 167,000 children under age 18 lost a mother or a father or an extended family member who was their primary caregiver. That's more than one out of every 450 children in the U.S., according to a new report titled "Hidden Pain" by the COVID Collaborative.

Black and Hispanic children lost caregivers at a rate two and half times greater than White children.

Patricia Alonso, program manager at Healthier Kids Foundation, has been counseling these children in San Jose, who have developed serious issues.

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"They seem very isolated," she said. "They seem a little depressed. They lost focus in school. Their school productivity is definitely decreasing because, it seems, as a result from this tragic loss."

Santa Clara County wants to tap existing federal Rescue Plan funds to expand school-based wellness centers and support services.

"We have data that tells us that children are 21 to 23 times more likely to access mental health services if they are available on their school campuses," said County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, who is leading the effort with co-sponsor Supervisor Cindy Chavez. They have identified $10 million to provide services to these children.

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The proposal doesn't prelude partnerships with community groups with a long history of grief counseling with language and cultural specific expertise.

The Center for Living with Dying at San Jose's Bill Wilson Center has been providing grief counseling for 46 years.

"School based services are also important, but that puts limits on how much they can include family, and since we know that family is so important, we need to be able to leverage all of the supports that exist within our community," said Irene Covarrubias, director of counseling services.

The proposal goes before the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday.

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