Pandemic deepens feelings of isolation felt by grieving families

  • 90% widowed parents say that feelings of loneliness or isolation have been more of a problem for them during the pandemic
  • 80% report more loneliness or isolation among their grieving children
  • Children’s Grief Awareness Week runs 19-25 November 2020
  • Children’s grief charities encourage everyone to #SayTheWords and reach out to ask for and offer support

A survey of over 350 widowed parents conducted for Children’s Grief Awareness Week, reveals the extra struggle faced by grieving families during the pandemic and their urgent need for better support.

The survey, carried out by the Childhood Bereavement Network, shows that 90% of parents whose partner had died in the last ten years, said the pandemic had deepened their feeling of loneliness and isolation.

Three quarters (77%) of widowed parents said the pandemic had made it harder to cope with their grief. Three in five (62%) said it was more difficult to talk to their family and friends about their bereavement, and 77% reported more problems with feeling depressed, since Covid-19 struck.

Grieving children and young people have also found the pandemic hard to cope with: 80% of widowed parents said their children had struggled more with isolation and loneliness during the pandemic, and 79% reported that their children have had more of a problem with worry and anxiety.

With this level of need, it’s crucial that families know where to turn. Children’s Grief Awareness Week runs 19-25 November 2020 and is a chance to increase awareness of the support available for bereaved families.

This year, the theme is #SayTheWords, encouraging families to reach out for support for themselves and their children, and inviting friends, schools, communities and services to #SayTheWords to acknowledge their grief and offer support.

Alison Penny, Director of the Childhood Bereavement Network, which co-founded Children’s Grief Awareness Week six years ago with Grief Encounter, said:

“It is clear that isolation and worry have been major problems for many of the families who were already grieving before the pandemic. Added to this are the thousands of children bereaved since March from Covid-19 and other causes, whose grief has been hugely impacted by social restrictions. Many have been unable to spend time with or say goodbye to loved ones, funerals have been so different during this time, and it’s been much harder for families to get together and support one another.

“Now more than ever it’s important that we help grieving children to #SayTheWords and share how grief has affected them, and for everyone caring for them to #SayTheWords in support.”

Local and national child bereavement services across the UK provide a range of support including 1 to 1 support, opportunities for children to meet others and realise they are not alone with their grief, and training and consultancy for schools and other professionals in their area. Most services are being provided remotely at the moment, but they remain open and are ready to support families.

A third of widowed parents (36%) have turned to peer support networks, such as WAY Widowed and Young or Gingerbread, during the pandemic, and almost one in five (19%) have reached out to charities for emotional support for themselves or their children.

Georgia Elms of WAY Widowed and Young said:

“The findings of this survey show just how important it is for bereaved parents to receive support – both for themselves and for their children – when they are feeling isolated and lonely. This underlines the importance of charities like WAY Widowed and Young which has seen a 13% increase in young widowed people turning to our peer support network this year. Although our members can’t meet up in person at the moment, they are still helping each other get through these challenging times by joining our online platforms and virtual get-togethers – helping them to feel less alone.”

The Childhood Bereavement Network is encouraging all schools to use its Growing in Grief Awareness audit tool to think through how they are supporting bereaved pupils, and how they care for children and young people as they learn about life, death and grief.

Alison Penny said:

“It’s important that everyone in children’s lives understand the part they can play in helping them through grief. At school, that means acknowledging what has happened, planning how to manage if feelings become overwhelming, and knowing where to go for more help. If school staff are brave enough to #SayTheWords this will make a world of difference to grieving pupils.”

Working with well known UK Spoken Word artist, Hussain Manawer, alongside two young men who have both been bereaved of a parent, we are proud to launch a new short film for Children’s Grief Awareness Week, “I Got Through”, highlighting the moments that bring isolation. Hussain has worked with real stories from bereaved young people to bring the piece to life.

We will also be releasing a mini documentary with world-renowned voice artist Reeps One meeting six bereaved children, discovering how we can use our voices to talk up and shout loud about our grief and isolation. We hope to encourage children and young people, both bereaved and not, to speak up, and #SayTheWords – even if they think they don’t know what to say.

Join the campaign on social media using the hashtag #SayTheWords and find out more about Children’s Grief Awareness Week, including the pieces by Hussain Manawer and Reeps One, here.


Notes to editors

  1. The Childhood Bereavement Network surveyed 358 parents whose partner had died in the last ten years, before April 2020. The survey ran from 6-15 November 2020.
  2. Children’s Grief Awareness Week was co-founded by the Childhood Bereavement Network and Grief Encounter in 2015. For more information, please visit and
  3. About the National Children’s Bureau. For more than 50 years, the National Children’s Bureau has worked to champion the rights of children and young people in the UK. We interrogate policy and uncover evidence to shape future legislation and develop more effective ways of supporting children and families. As a leading children’s charity, we take the voices of children to the heart of Government, bringing people and organisations together to drive change in society and deliver a better childhood for the UK. We are united for a better childhood.

For further information, please contact the National Children’s Bureau media office / / 07721 097 033.

For more information visit

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Open letter to government on funding for bereavement services responding to Covid-19

Logos of signatory organisations

A group of 50 charities and organisations providing support to those bereaved during the COVID-19 crisis are calling on the Government to invest in support for those grieving loved ones.

In an open letter to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, the group, led by the Childhood Bereavement Network and the National Bereavement Alliance, describe how physical distancing is affecting death and mourning during the outbreak, and how they expect this to impact on bereavement over the coming months.

The letter reads:

Dear Minister

The grief of families, friends and colleagues is the inevitable and painful legacy of the COVID-19 outbreak. However much we succeed in flattening the peak and maintaining the capacity of the NHS, many thousands of people are already mourning loved ones and many more will join them.

The physical distancing measures so necessary for public health have upsetting consequences for all bereaved people at this time, whether the death was through coronavirus, cancer, cardiac arrest or another cause. Many family members and friends cannot spend time saying goodbye to dying loved ones, cannot have the funeral they would choose, and cannot hug and comfort one another in person. These barriers between us make grief so much harder to bear at this time, and will linger as painful memories for those affected. We expect to see an increase in complex grief reactions in the coming months.

Just as the need for bereavement care services is set to increase, these organisations are having to find new ways of delivering support, bringing people together to combat the loneliness of grief, and providing 1:1 support and counselling to children and adults who need it. At the same time, these crucial services are facing major drops in income as fundraising events are cancelled, training courses postponed and charity shops closed.

The legacy of grief from these exceptional times will last for months and years to come. The work of those responding to this grief is only just beginning.  We urge the Government to recognise their crucial contribution to protecting the nation from the consequences of COVID-19, and to support these services over time.

The letter is signed by

Alison Penny (for correspondence), Director Childhood Bereavement Network, Coordinator National Bereavement Alliance

Emma Kneebone, Bereavement Services Manager , 2 Wish Upon A Star

Yvonne Richmond Tulloch, Founder and CEO, At a Loss

Sara Bennett, CEO, Balloons

Clare Yilmaz , Head of Children and Young People’s Services , CancerHelp (Preston) Ltd

Ann Chalmers, Chief Executive, Child Bereavement UK

Natasha Williamson, Counselling & Family Support Team, Claire House Children’s Hospice

Justine Wilson, Bereavement Services Manager, Compton Care

Steven Wibberley, Chief Executive , Cruse Bereavement Care

Keith Robertson, Chief Executive Officer, Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland

Gill Stevens, Director, Daisy’s Dream

Linda Sterry, Service Manager, Funeral Link

Liz Dempsey, Clinical Servcies Director , Grief Encounter

Sarah Hill, Head of GriefChat, GriefChat

Jojo Gosney , Project Lead, Harbour Counselling

Odette Mould, CEO & Family Liaison Officer, Harry’s Rainbow

Nicola Welsh, CEO, Held In Our Hearts

Jennifer Hattan, Service Manager, Jigsaw (South East)

Jane Robinson , Manager, Leeds Bereavement Forum

Tina Mangar, Family Support Worker, Living On Bereavement Service

Matthew Reed, CEO, Marie Curie

Kay Greene, Director of Clinical Services, Mary Ann Evans Hospice

Marie Faux, Senior Sister, Mary Stevens Hospice

Margaret Hannibal MBE, CEO, Mosaic Supporting Bereaved Children

Chris James, Director of External Affairs, Motor Neurone Disease Association

Jean Watkins, Head of Bereavement, National Bereavement Service

Susan Daniell, Bereavement Service Coordinator, North London Hospice

Becky Thomas, Family Services Manager, Penhaligon’s Friends

Alison Glynne-Jones, Bereavement Service Coordinator, Princess Alice Hospice

Catherine Betley, Managing Director, Professional Help

Zillah Bingley, Chief Executive, Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity

Donna Hastings , Children and Families Worker, St Columba’s Hospice Care

Sharon Cornford , Bereavement Services Manager , St Joseph’s Hospice

Rebecka Sparks, Specialist Palliative Care Social Worker, St Richard’s Hospice

Ann-Marie McKiernan, Stars service coordinator & lead counsellor, Stars

Sarah Gigg, Director of Nursing & Interim Director of Hospices , Sue Ryder

Sarah Bates, Executive Lead, Support After Suicide Partnership

Carolyn Brice, Chief Executive, The Compassionate Friends

Robert Cuming, CEO, The Counselling Foundation

Linda Magistris, CEO, The Good Grief Trust

Dr Erin Hope Thompson, Founder & Director , The Loss Foundation

Dayna Cook, Care Support Lead, The Norfolk Hospice

Julie Stokes OBE, Consultant Clinical Psychologist , The Preston Associates

Andy Fletcher , Chief Executive, Together for Short Lives

Vicki Quarton, Bereavement Support Director, Touchstones Child Bereavement Support

Jane Gibbins, Counselling Team Leader, Ty Gobaith Children’s Hospices

Peter Taylor, Elected Mayor of Watford, Watford Bereavement Support Group

Rebecca Cooper, CEO, WAY Widowed and Young

Melissa Hillier, Director, We Hear You

Fergus Crow, Chief Executive, Winston’s Wish

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Open letter on bereavement benefits for cohabiting parents & their children

GIF for sector letter 3 March18 months after Siobhan McLaughlin won her case for Widowed Parent’s Allowance in the Supreme Court, and the day after the Government was refused permission to appeal a similar case on Bereavement Support Payment, 18 organisations have come together to write an open letter to the Prime Minister urging change to the rules that deny bereavement benefits to unmarried, cohabiting parents.

The letter reads

We were pleased to hear your comments at Prime Minister’s Questions on 12 February 2020 about the ineligibility of bereaved parents who were cohabiting and their grieving children to bereavement benefits.

It meant a great deal to us – and to parents and children in this situation who are grieving the loss of their mother or father – to hear you describe it as an ‘injustice’. We are very encouraged by your undertaking to do what you can ‘to remedy this’.

We would therefore be grateful if you would work with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to bring forward legislation to extend eligibility to the new Bereavement Support Payment and the old Widowed Parent’s Allowance to cohabiting, unmarried parents, and to clarify the position for those previously deemed ineligible. As you know, the requirements for parents to have been married or in a civil partnership with their partner who died have been declared incompatible with human rights legislation, by the High Court and the Supreme Court, respectively. We respectfully ask that this be done quickly, as another five families with children fall foul of the current criteria each day.

We would be very pleased to support officials in working through the practical implications of these changes.

We look forward to supporting you and colleagues in levelling up for this group of vulnerable bereaved children and their surviving parents.

Yours sincerely,

Sharon Cornford
Chair, Association of Bereavement Service Coordinators

Philippa Graham and Wendy Ashton
Co-chairs, Association of Palliative Care Social Workers

Alison Penny
Director, Childhood Bereavement Network

Amy Woodhouse
Head of Policy, Projects and Participation, Children in Scotland

Steven Wibberley
CEO, Cruse Bereavement Care

Keith Robertson
CEO, Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland

Shelley Gilbert
Founder, Life Patron and Trustee, Grief Encounter

Tracey Bleakley
CEO, Hospice UK

John Birrell
Founder Chair, Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty

Georgia Elms
Vice Chair, Life Matters the taskforce for bereaved families

Chris James
Director of External Affairs, MND Association

Anna Feuchtwang
CEO, National Children’s Bureau

Satwat Rehman
Director, One Parent Families Scotland

Lindesay Mace
Down to Earth Acting Manager, Quaker Social Action

Annabel Howell
Chair, Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care

Sarah Gigg
Director of Nursing, Interim Director of Hospices, Sue Ryder

Rebecca Cooper
CEO, WAY Widowed and Young

Fergus Crow
CEO, Winston’s Wish

For more details on the campaign for bereavement benefits for cohabiting parents and their children, visit

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Bereavement Support Payment: High Court rules in favour of bereaved parents who were cohabiting and their children

  • Landmark High Court judgement that denying new-style bereavement benefits to unmarried, cohabiting partners with children is incompatible with human rights law
  • Bereavement Support Payment is paid at a higher rate to those with children
  • Frustration at Government’s lack of progress in responding to previous Supreme Court ruling on Widowed Parent’s Allowance

The High Court has today ruled that the eligibility criteria for Higher Rate Bereavement Support Payment (HRBSP) are incompatible with human rights law.

Payments are currently made to those whose husband, wife or civil partner died, but not to those who were living with but not married to their partner.

This means that each year, around 2,000 families with children lose out on payments worth almost £10,000.

Today’s ruling recognises that grieving children and their surviving parents are deserving of support, whether their parents were married or not.

The case was brought by Child Poverty Action Group on behalf of two families where the mother had died, leaving the fathers caring for their young children.

One of the fathers had been living with his partner for 14 years and they had three sons, now aged 13, 8 and 4.  His partner died suddenly in October 2018. She had previously been working full time and paying National Insurance contributions. However, when the father made a claim for BSP, it was refused on the grounds that the couple had not been married.

The other father had been living with his partner for 10 years and together they had two daughters, now aged 9 and 7. His partner was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2016 (having made a full recovery from an earlier diagnosis), and died in March 2018.  The father made an application for BSP, which was refused on the grounds that he and his partner were not married. In both cases the couples were engaged and had intended to marry but financial and health issues meant that such intentions were never realised.

Many unmarried parents in the UK don’t realise the situation until it’s too late. More than a quarter of deaths are sudden and even when a parent is expected to die, they may be too ill to get married. Almost half (49%) of people cohabiting with a partner  believe wrongly that living together for some time brings them the same legal rights as if they were married. This figure is even higher (55%) among people with children[1].

The whole system of bereavement benefits was overhauled in April 2017, with Bereavement Support Payment replacing a number of other bereavement benefits including the previous Widowed Parent’s Allowance.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled in August 2018 that denying Widowed Parent’s Allowance to unmarried mother-of-four Siobhan McLaughlin was incompatible with human rights law.  However, the government has to date taken no action to amend the relevant legislation to bring it into compliance with human rights law nor has it taken any steps to review the equivalent marriage/civil partnership condition for Bereavement Support Payment.  It was this inaction which resulted in the present case being brought.

Today’s ruling was keenly anticipated by those working with unmarried widowed parents and their children, as it tested whether the principle established in Ms McLaughlin’s case also applied to the new system of Bereavement Support Payment. The court found that it does.

Commenting on the case, Carla Clarke, solicitor for the Child Poverty Action Group, which represented the fathers, said:

The two fathers in this case took legal action to protect not only their own grieving children but the estimated 2000 bereaved families who, each year, are excluded from bereavement support payments purely because the parents did not marry.   The court’s finding is clear and strong – it recognises that the needs of grieving children are no less for the fact that their parents did not marry and confirms that restricting higher rate bereavement payments to spouses is unlawful and discriminates against children with unmarried parents.

We pay tribute to our clients who, in the midst of their grief, had the courage to pursue this case in order to ensure that no child is disadvantaged in bereavement because of their parents’ marital status.

In reaching its decision, the High Court agreed that our clients’ case is similar to the McLaughlin family’s case in 2018 when the Supreme Court found that the requirement to be a spouse or civil partner of the deceased parent in order to claim widowed parents allowance was incompatible with human rights law. That earlier ruling recognised that children’s needs are the same whether or not their parents were married and denying them additional financial support after the death of one parent is unlawful. Today’s judgement confirms that the principle  established in that earlier ruling applies equally to families like our clients who claim bereavement support payments and have not married.

DWP argued that payment of bereavement support payment at a higher rate for those with children did not mean that it was intended to benefit the children and so the Supreme Court reasoning should not apply. Thankfully that suggestion was given short shrift by the High Court.

In light of today’s judgment, the Government cannot justify any further inaction– it must act swiftly to ensure that the law on entitlement to both widowed parents allowance and the higher rate of bereavement support payment complies with human rights law. No more bereaved children should be denied state support on the basis of their parents’ marital status.

Alison Penny, Director of the Childhood Bereavement Network, who provided a witness statement in support of the case and had previously intervened in the case of McLaughlin, said

We are delighted by today’s judgment. Parents make the same National Insurance contributions whether they are married or cohabiting. But at the moment, if one of them dies, their contributions only entitle their partner and children to bereavement support if the couple were married. Today’s ruling rights this injustice.

We estimate that every year, over 2,000 families like those in this case  face the double hit of one parent dying, and the other parent realising that they and the children aren’t eligible for bereavement benefits. And with cohabiting couples the fastest growing family type in the UK, the problem would only have got worse.

Cohabiting parents have shared harrowing stories with us of the hardships they and their children have faced because they can’t claim Higher Rate Bereavement Support Payment. This money could provide a breathing space to help the family begin to adjust to life without their mum or dad, as well as paying for new expenses such as childcare or bereavement counselling. This ruling paves the way for all grieving children to be supported, whether their parents were married or not.

We urge Parliament to amend the relevant legislation as quickly as possible, and to clarify the position for those parents who were previously deemed ineligible because of their marital status.

Each day of delay, another four to five families will fall foul of this injustice.

Today’s ruling is also a reminder that the government has still not addressed the human rights incompatibility of its eligibility criteria for the old Widowed Parent’s Allowance. 18 months on from the Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of Ms McLaughlin, it has still not said how it will right this wrong.

Alison Penny said

It is extraordinary that the Government is still dragging its feet in redressing this historic injustice, which continues to affect thousands of grieving children and their parents. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, recommendations from the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, reassurances from Ministers, and the efforts of many widowed parents and campaigners, families are still waiting to hear how they will be supported. Action is overdue and we urge the Government to act fast.

– Ends –

Notes to editors

For more information contact Child Poverty Action Group’s media officer Jane Ahrends on 0207 812 5216 or 07816 909302 .

About bereavement benefits

Bereavement Support Payment was introduced in April 2017. It is based on National Insurance contributions and is paid at a standard rate, or a higher rate for those entitled to Child Benefit or who were pregnant at the time of the death of their spouse or civil partner.

It replaced the old system of Widowed Parent’s Allowance. The ineligibility rule for parents who were cohabiting with their partner was the same under WPA as it is under BSP. This eligibility rule for WPA was ruled incompatible with human rights law by the Supreme Court in August 2018 in

About the case

The High Court ruling is available at

About Child Poverty Action Group

CPAG is the leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in the UK and for a better deal for low-income families and children. Through its Early Warning System it collects and analyses case evidence about how welfare changes are affecting the wellbeing of children, their families and the communities and services that support them. Through its strategic litigation work, CPAG brings or intervenes in cases where benefit claimants’ rights are violated with a view to bringing about systemic change for others who find themselves in the same situation. CPAG is the host organisation for the Campaign to End Child Poverty coalition, which has members from across civil society including children’s charities, faith groups, unions and other civic sector organisations.

About the Childhood Bereavement Network

The Childhood Bereavement Network, based at the National Children’s Bureau, is the coordinating hub for services across the UK that offer direct support to children and young people who have been bereaved of a parent or sibling. Since 2011, the Network has coordinated a group of charities and other bodies interested in bereavement benefits. For more information visit

About the National Children’s Bureau

The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) is a leading charity that for over 50 years has been improving the lives of children and young people, especially the most vulnerable. We work with children and for children, to influence government policy, be a strong voice for young people and practitioners, and provide creative solutions on a range of social issues. For more information visit


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Lost for Words – have things changed?

The findings published for Children’s Grief Awareness Week 2019  show that many of today’s bereaved children are ‘lost for words’. More than one in four 11 year olds whose mum or dad has died say they keep their worries to themselves. They are less likely to talk to someone at home about their worries than those children whose parents are both alive.

While many young people find their friends a fantastic source of support, others feel lonely and isolated and some even get bullied because of their bereavement. Many young people report finding it difficult to explain their grief to friends who haven’t faced something similar. And their friends can find it hard too – not knowing what to say, not wanting to make things worse, and ending up saying nothing at all.

That’s why the theme of ‘Lost for Words’ had such resonance for Children’s Grief Awareness Week this year. But the theme isn’t new – it was first coined in relation to bereaved children by educational psychologist Dr John Holland in his ground-breaking research in the 1990s. Here, John gives us an insight into his findings.

I have worked with schools, bereavement and children for many years. ‘Iceberg’ was my doctoral research, interviewing adults who had experienced the death of a parent during their childhood.

Many children felt isolated and confused; their family was often chaotic and emotionally ‘unavailable’. It was similar in schools, many had little support, children felt ignored, isolated, some were even bullied. Schools often lacked the confidence to engage with children, being ‘lost for words’.

Key moments included the funeral and return to school. No child regretted attending the funeral; many who were forbidden to go had long term regrets about this

Learning from Iceberg

John published his findings in a book: ‘Understanding the experiences of bereaved children’. This led to Lost for Words, a training pack for school. He said

The focus was to empower staff to respond after a parental death, providing a ‘haven’ for children. The pack encouraged schools to develop policies and procedures, such as a carefully planned and supported return to school.

Key tips

The findings from John’s interviews gave some important ‘ponder points’ in thinking about how best to support bereaved children

  • Funerals: ask children if they want to attend, offer prior support.
  • Acknowledgements: Saying “I’m sorry ” is a powerful positive..
  • Plan a careful return to school, ask what would help, monitor progress.
  • Euphemisms: Be careful. Saying that the deceased is ‘lost’ or ‘asleep’, may confuse and frighten children.
  • Technical language: Provide explanations in language that the child can understand. Children may wonder how a heart can be ‘attacked’, how a ‘stroke’ can kill.


For more information about Iceberg and the Lost for Words training pack, visit

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Manifesto for Grieving Children

Manifesto for grieving children 2019On the first day of Children’s Grief Awareness Week 2019, we’re launching our Manifesto for Grieving Children.

Every 22 minutes, a parent dies in the UK leaving dependent children. That’s over 2,000 parents over the course of this General Election campaign. Many other children and young people are bereaved of a brother, sister, grandparent or someone else close. While many get great support from family, friends and school to help them through, others struggle to find the help they need. Bereavement brings long term consequences and risks, and getting the right support is key.

The General Election gives you a chance to raise issues affecting bereaved children, young people and their families with your local candidates, and ask them what they would do to improve support if they were elected.

What can you do?

  • Email or tweet at your candidates asking for their views. You can find who your candidates are here.
  • Talk to candidates who knock on your door or are out and about in public. Be ready to talk to them about issues that matter to you, and ask how they would make things better for the next generation of widowed parents and their children.
  • Go along a local hustings. These are public meetings for particular constituencies: candidates are invited to talk and respond to questions. You can go along and ask a question. Check your local newspapers, libraries and the internet for listings of hustings in your area.
  • Ask for a meeting. You can ask to meet your local candidates on particular issues of concern to you.

What can you ask?Manifesto for Grieving Children front cover

The Childhood Bereavement Network wants support to be available to all bereaved children and young people, wherever they live and however they have been bereaved. Our Manifesto for Grieving Children has simple pledges. You could ask your candidates how they would meet these commitments if they were elected.

Financial support

  • End discrimination against grieving children whose parents were living together but not married
  • Restore longer term support for widowed parents to help them put their grieving children’s needs first

Support in school

  • Ensure every school is prepared to respond to the death of a pupil, staff member or someone important in a pupil’s life, or news that a death is expected
  • Give all children and young people opportunities to learn how to cope with loss and bereavement

Extra support

  • Provide a platform of sustainable funding so that all children and their families facing and following bereavement can access extra support if they need it


  • Collect data on how many children are bereaved each year in the local area, and what support they need

Support for all children

  • Because bereaved children are children first, we’re supporting NCB’s call for a national strategy for all children and young people, backed by an investment of £10 billion, with children’s voices at the heart.

Read more details of our manifesto pledges here.


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Bereaved children still missing out on financial support

Earlier this year, the Childhood Bereavement Network surveyed over 300 widowed parents about their experiences of finances, work and childcare. This fed into a response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into the new Bereavement Support Payment. Today, the Committee has reported and made significant recommendations to improve the way the benefit works to support grieving children and their parents.

Alison Penny, Director of the Childhood Bereavement Network, said

Following our evidence to the Work and Pension Committee’s inquiry into bereavement benefits, we welcome its call today for the Government to extend the duration of payments, and to consult on how to make payments to parents who were living with but not married to their partner.
A ‘second economic shock’ for families
The Government has stated that the new scheme of bereavement benefits introduced in April 2017 is no longer intended to replace the lost income of the parent who has died. But our survey of over 300 widowed parents showed that is exactly how many parents are using their payments, to meet the daily living costs of bringing up their children. Payments now stop after just 18 months, as opposed to the average claim under the old system of 5-6 years. This creates a second economic shock for many families with young children, at a time when they are still reeling from the death of one of the parents. Some told us how they were having to move house, increase their working hours before their children were ready, and sacrifice bereavement counselling and other expenses that were helping the family adjust to life without their mum or dad.
Children missing out on support
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in August 2018 that it was unlawful to deny bereavement benefits to a mother who was not married to her partner, the Government has still not acted to redress this injustice. We estimate that between four and five families a day face the double hit of one parent dying and the other realising that they are not eligible for financial support to help bring up their children, simply because they were not married. It is extraordinary, in this day and age, that children should miss out on support because of these these outdated and disrespectful criteria. We echo the Committee’s call for this to be redressed as soon as possible.


The Committee’s full report can be read here

The Childhood Bereavement Network’s evidence to the Committee can be read here

A note for widowed parents about the implications of Siobhan McLaughlin’s case can be read here

The Childhood Bereavement Network is part of the National Children’s Bureau

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Bereaved children and their parents losing out

A year ago Siobhan McLaughlin won her case in the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that denying her Widowed Parent’s Allowance after the death of her partner of 23 years was incompatible with her and her children’s human rights.

Despite losing the case and acknowledging that it has incompatible legislation on the statute books, the Government still has not acted to put this injustice right.

Alison Penny, Director of the Childhood Bereavement Network said

We intervened in Siobhan McLaughlin’s case last year because we didn’t think it was fair that grieving children were losing out on support because their parents hadn’t got married.

We were delighted when the Supreme Court ruled that the Government’s restrictive criteria for Widowed Parent’s Allowance were incompatible with human rights law. We never dreamed that a year on, the Government would still be dragging its heels rather than putting things right.

We urge the Government to amend legislation as quickly as possible, and to clarify the position for those parents who were previously deemed ineligible because of their marital status. The longer the delay, the longer that thousands of grieving children and their parents are trapped in limbo.

The Childhood Bereavement Network and the Child Poverty Action Group have written a note for parents about what Siobhan McLaughlin’s case means for them. Read more:

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Learning about change, loss and bereavement

Amid Brexit chaos, we’d be forgiven for thinking that the business of Parliament had ground to a halt. But last week, the House of Commons did manage to find something that almost all MPs could agree on. And it has the potential to improve children’s understanding of how to support one another – and themselves – at times of change, loss and bereavement.

MPs voted to approve the long-awaited regulations for Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education, by 538 votes to 21. But how is this new learning related to children’s ability to cope when someone close to them dies?

The new curricula

Essentially, from September 2020, every pupil in England will now be guaranteed a curriculum that includes health education and relationships education. New statutory guidance sets out what the curricula for these subjects should and must contain, including ‘how relationships may affect physical and mental health and wellbeing‘. The philosophy behind the new subjects is focused on mental well-being:

“Teaching about mental wellbeing is central to these subjects, especially as a priority for parents is their children’s happiness. We know that children and young people are increasingly experiencing challenges, and that young people are at particular risk of feeling lonely. The new subject content will give them the knowledge and capability to take care of themselves and receive support if problems arise.

All of this content should support the wider work of schools in helping to foster pupil wellbeing and develop resilience and character that we know are fundamental to pupils being happy, successful and productive members of society. Central to this is pupils’ ability to believe that they can achieve goals, both academic and personal; to stick to tasks that will help them achieve those goals, even when the reward may be distant or uncertain; and to recover from knocks and challenging periods in their lives.”

Learning about loss and bereavement

Here at the Childhood Bereavement Network, we know that the challenge of bereavement faces the majority of children before they leave school. We’ve long advocated that school should be one of the places where children have an opportunity to learn about change, loss and bereavement. As one young person said

“It’s kind of ironic because it’s the only thing that’s guaranteed in life, but they won’t teach you about it.”

And of course, children are learning about these topics every day – through the news, through their own family experiences, through films, songs and social media. We can’t possibly shield children from these experiences, but we can shield them from feeling alone with their fears and worries. In response to our recent survey, a parent said

“It is very important to help children know what they are experiencing is ‘normal’ or to help them understand what a bereaved classmate is experiencing.”

As well as preparing individual pupils, a school which teaches these topics is also likely to be better prepared if there is a death in the school community: a pupil, parent or staff member. Schools often wish they had planned their response before something happened.

What the curriculum should include

We’ve been advocating for the curriculum to include opportunities to explore and discuss these topics, particularly

  • changes and differences in families
  • life-cycles and understanding death
  • understanding and managing feelings, and seeking help.

As pupils get older, the likelihood that they have themselves experienced bereavement grows. A spiral curriculum allows pupils to explore issues at increasing depth, and with a greater chance that they will be reflecting on their own experiences. They are likely to have questions about fairness/justice, different beliefs around death and bereavement, supporting themselves and others with overwhelming feelings, and finding appropriate support including outside the family.

The opportunities to address these topics are implicit in the new curricula, rather than set out explicitly. And because these topics are sensitive, there is a risk that teachers will avoid teaching them. While the new curricula are a great start, we would have liked to see a stronger steer to schools.

Across the sector, we have more work to do to support teachers, school leaders and governors to understand why these topics matter, the resources that can help to teach them, including curriculum materials, staff training and input from local child bereavement organisations.

What else needs to be in place?

Meeting the needs of all learners on a topic such as bereavement goes beyond the content of the programme of study. Many children’s first experience of death and bereavement will be a personal one: the death of a pet, family member or friend, and so lessons on these topics will speak directly to their own experience.

For this reason, curriculum development must be part of a whole school approach, involving proactive and flexible pastoral support, a system for managing and communicating important information about bereavements, staff training and support, and policy development.

Pupils in special schools are more likely than others to experience the death of a peer, and mainstream schools can learn from the expertise developed by special schools in supporting their communities.

Young people’s suggestions to us about what could help to make school a good place to learn about death and bereavement included

  • teachers checking with young people who have recently been bereaved whether they are happy to join in the lesson
  • no pressure to talk about personal experiences
  • somewhere quiet to go or someone to talk to after the lesson if they are feeling
  • clear suggestions about where to get  further help and support.

What next?

Ahead of September 2020, we’ll be working with CBN members to produce guidance for schools about how to select high quality materials and training. We’ll also be working with OFSTED around their new inspection framework. We think this has the potential to drive change, through inspectors having an eye for how schools are helping pupils prepare for and manage change, loss and bereavement. Read more on our schools work here.

Local child bereavement services can use the new curricula to reach out to schools and remind them of their offer of support to develop both the curriculum and pastoral support.

Schools can find their local child bereavement service here and contact them for details of the support they can offer.


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Making bereaved children more visible

Today’s news from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) makes sobering reading: around 7,000 children born each year in England and Wales are likely to face the death of their mother before they reach 16.

All too often, bereaved children can seem invisible in society. ONS’ work begins to put this right.

We have long campaigned for better official information about the number of children affected by the death of a parent, and how this influences their lives and futures, most recently as part of the Life Matters taskforce. We’re really pleased that ONS is helping to help shine a light on the impact that early bereavement can have.

The numbers are stark, and it’s very painful to think that those babies will face such a huge loss during their childhood.

But we know that many will be very well supported by their dads, their wider family and friends, and their schools, and will manage the challenges that bereavement brings. Others will struggle to get the support they need, and will benefit from help from organised services. That might include creative sessions getting to know other bereaved children, a chance to ask the questions that have been bothering them about how their mum died, or simply a time to talk about and remember her.

Estimates like today’s are hugely helpful for bereavement services, who need to know how many children in their area might need their support in the future. We need similar information on the number of children who will face the death of their father, brother or sister, or someone else important in their lives.

Of course, from the raw numbers we can’t know which children are likely to face this challenge during their childhood. That’s why our Plan If campaign encourages all parents to put things in place in case they die before their children grow up. Things like appointing guardians, making a will, and writing letters to be opened on future birthdays. While these can never take away the pain of a parent dying, they can make life that bit easier.  And of course, once they’re in place, families can get on with the important business of enjoying life together.

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