New York Life Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers Release New COVID-19 Survey on the Grief Support Crisis in Schools

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

New York Life Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers Release New COVID-19 Survey on the Grief Support Crisis in Schools

NEW YORK and WASHINGTON, October 21, 2020 – America’s educators see an urgent need to provide greater social-emotional support to students as COVID-19 amplifies the increasing prevalence of grief in our nation’s schools, according to a national survey of educators released today by the New York Life Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Even before COVID-19, grief in the classroom was an all-too common occurrence, with an estimated one in 14 children in the U.S. experiencing the death of a parent or sibling by age 181. Educators echo this experience: when asked how many students each year typically need their support due to the loss of a loved one, 87% said at least one and 25% said six or more. Now, as students return to the classroom, educators anticipate the potential for these numbers to increase. Of the educators surveyed, more than one in four (26%) report that a member of their school community (including direct family members of students, teachers or staff) had died from the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 is powerfully and poignantly illustrating the challenges our nation’s educators already faced in confronting grief in the classroom each and every day. As the need grows, we all have a critical role to play in providing greater bereavement support to students wherever and however our school communities come together,” said Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation, one of the largest corporate funders of childhood bereavement support.

Educators Prioritize Social-Emotional Support

The survey reveals the heightened focus on social-emotional learning as a mechanism to help students cope with grief, with 75% of educators in strong agreement that social and emotional support for students has never been more important. Despite this acknowledgment, educators feel under-prepared to tackle students’ growing social and emotional needs:

  • Only 15% of educators said they feel very comfortable addressing students’ emotional needs—including anxiety, grief, and/or trauma—that have been caused or intensified by the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Seventy-five percent of educators say that COVID-19 has opened their eyes to the immense impact of grief and loss. 
  • Eighty-four percent of educators also say that the coronavirus has made them more aware of the impact of “non-death related losses.”

When asked about “non-death related losses,” educators said physical, mental health and financial challenges related to COVID-19 were areas where they felt least prepared to lend support...