Grief matters in schools

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We are all sharing Christmas stories as we return to school, but we must remember to look out for those students who have suffered a bereavement and for whom the festive season might have been tough. Dr Hilary Emery introduces the work of the Childhood Be

While this is normally a time for positive thoughts I want to prompt you to think about those children who have had Christmas without someone they love.

As everyone packed up for the Christmas holidays, we were all still reeling from the news of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut. One can barely imagine what sort of Christmas those children who survived, their families and their community have had.

At a personal level I will never forget the little girl in my class who was killed in a road accident. Many of you will know the impact the death of a child in your class or school has had on your school community.

Whenever stories such as these are in the news, children who have had someone important die can imagine very vividly what the surviving children are experiencing and can feel their own pain sharpened as a consequence.

The start of a new year is usually seen as a positive time for new beginnings. Yet many of the pupils coming back into classrooms at this time of year will have spent Christmas, which is meant to be such a happy family time, without someone they love.

Around one in 29 children (that’s equivalent to one in each classroom) have had a parent die, more will have lost a sibling, many more a grandparent. One survey showed that 78 per cent of children (aged 11 to 16) reported a significant close bereavement.

While other children are swapping stories of family occasions, these children may be feeling very low and isolated, desperately missing that beloved person. The new year is a time for new beginnings and it is a good time to check on any students who have been bereaved in the past to see how they are feeling as they come back to school.

Colleagues in the Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) – hosted at the National Children’s Bureau – have been thinking about the role that schools play in supporting young people who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or other close family member.

We hear many stories about the special support offered by teachers and other members of the school community but, sadly, we also hear some stories that suggest not all schools are alert to the needs of bereaved young people. The CBN will focus on two themes this year to support schools.

The first is encouraging schools to have a bereavement policy to support young people when a death affects the school community. The CBN can point schools to existing resources to save starting from scratch.

One head explained to CBN colleagues that having a bereavement plan on the shelf ready to implement (which included reminders to support the other bereaved children in the school, a sample assembly, a sample letter for parents, ideas about memorials) meant that she and her staff were able to concentrate on supporting all those affected.

The second theme is to try to ensure that information about children who have been bereaved when younger is passed automatically to their secondary school.

CBN colleagues will also be talking to relevant bodies across the UK about the consideration that is given to those who have been recently bereaved at exam times and about the process for special consideration over school allocation.

Finally you may find it useful to know that there is a growing network of child bereavement services and all the details can be found in the directory on the CBN website.

These local services work on an individual or group basis with bereaved young people and can support staff to, in turn, support their students. Some of these organisations also offer training to teachers.

  • Dr Hilary Emery is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Visit www.ncb.org.uk

Further information
For more on the work of the Childhood Bereavement Network, visit www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk or follow on Twitter @CBNtweets


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