“I think people should talk about grieving much more. It’s normal you know.” (5-12 year old)
These are the words of one of the young people who responded earlier this year to the UK Commission on Bereavement’s call for evidence about experiences of grief and bereavement.
The independent Commission, set up to find out how we can improve support for bereaved people across the UK, heard from over 100 children and young people, as well as over 1,000 adults. The Commission also engaged with Votes for Schools, gathering over 31,000 pupils’ views about teaching and learning about bereavement, and heard from 130 organisations with experience of supporting bereaved children and adults. We are proud to be one of the steering partners for the Commission, and we’re really grateful to all the children, young people, parents and organisations who took part.
“I felt like I was the only one who’s daddy had died.” (5-12 year old)
Bereaved children shared some of the overwhelming and confusing feelings they faced when someone died. They talked about their loneliness, and some shared their worries about whether they were grieving ‘right’.
Many shared great examples of support from family, friends and school, but others gave examples of how things had been difficult.
Often, they said that things were tougher than they needed to be because of society’s expectation that they would be ‘over’ their grief after a period of time. Across all age groups, they said they wanted people to understand they might need ongoing support around a bereavement, for as long as the support was needed.
“It would be nice for them to still support me even if it was more than a year ago, grief is not a linear process and it can still be very hard!” (16-17 year old)
The Commission found out that clear and open communication - talking about and acknowledging a bereavement - was important for bereaved children and young people
The Commission also heard that getting support from specialist child bereavement services was helpful, but it wasn’t available to everyone. Organisations shared the strains they are under in providing enough support, particularly since the pandemic.
In response to the suggestions that children and adults put forward, the Commission has set out some key recommendations. These include more funding for more specialist services, but the recommendations go much wider than this and address broader ways in which we can improve the situation for grieving children.
These include better public education so that children are surrounded by people who understand grief and feel more confident in responding with compassion, and bereavement policies in schools so that staff feel better prepared to support pupils in their everyday lives in school.
Through the Votes for Schools votes, we heard that the majority of younger students want to hear about how to cope with loss and bereavement, offering a foundation to build on across their lifetime. Some older students felt that a school setting may not be the best place to have those conversations, so we need to find out how to support both students and school staff around this topic.
“It was really good this topic because if you know how someone feels, you can help them.” (Primary school student)
The Commission also makes recommendations about welfare policies and streamlined administrative processes. Getting these right could cushion families from some of the additional stresses and strains that so often accompany a bereavement, and mean that families have more time and energy to support one another and find a way to live with their grief.
The report sets out how bereavement really is everyone’s business. Launching the report is just the first step – we all have a role to play in making these recommendations happen and improving support for the grieving children in our families and communities.
We’d love to hear what you think of the report and how you’re planning to take the recommendations forward.
Follow the Childhood Bereavement Network on Twitter via @CBNtweets