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.

Notes

For more information about Iceberg and the Lost for Words training pack, visit www.john-holland-ep.co.uk

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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

Numbers

  • 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.

Notes

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: http://www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk/media/96888/note-for-parents-on-siobhan-mclaughlin-case.pdf

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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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No records of families affected by bereavement in UK

  • FOI request reveals that bereaved children are effectively invisible to the Government

  • Life Matters task force introduces a series of recommendations to support those affected by bereavement

17 November 2017: Just seven months after the government cut the benefits available to bereaved UK families, the Life Matters task force reveals that there is no central record of the number of children affected by the bereavement of a parent.

The alarming revelation comes as a result of an FOI request asking for the number of children bereaved of a parent in the UK, to which both the General Register Office and the Department of Work and Pensions stated: “The information is not held by the department.”

This information has been released by the Life Matters task force, which was brought together by comparethemarket.com in April 2017 in response to the significant changes to bereavement benefits. The changes will leave 75% of UK families affected by bereavement worse off financially than they would have been under the old system, with the average working widowed parent losing out on over £12,000.

Today, in response to this new information, the task force is introducing its six recommendations for policymakers on how best to support those affected by bereavement – both emotionally and financially.

The recommendations include:

  • Adapting the information registered at death to include any details on dependent children of both married and unmarried couples;
  • Training all teachers and carers of children on how to manage and support bereaved children;
  • A call for the government to confirm that Personal, Social, Health & Economic Education (PHSE) will become statutory, so that all children can learn about bereavement and grief within a safe, supported and age-appropriate curriculum
  • Introducing a cross-government bereavement strategy, and identifying a government lead for this
  • A call for every organisation to have a bereavement policy
  • A call for the government to open a new consultation into how it can better support bereaved families

Member of the Life Matters task force and author of The Grief Survival Guide, Jeff Brazier, says:

“When the Life Matters task force came together earlier this year, it was because we knew that more needed to be done to support families across the UK who have suffered the bereavement of a parent or loved one.

“These recommendations provide a realistic plan of action through which policymakers can address the issues faced by bereaved families and pave the way for a better future for the next generation affected by the loss of a parent.”

Also released by the Life Matters task force today, is a video featuring a number of children affected by bereavement appealing to their local MP on what more should to be done to help others in their situation.

To view a copy of the video, or review a summary of the recommendations from the Life Matters task force, visit https://www.comparethemarket.com/life-insurance/content/changes-to-bereavement-support/

ENDS

Notes to Editors

For further information, please contact the Life Matters task force press office on:
• lifematterstaskforce@freuds.com
• 0203 003 6710

The above information was sourced from a Freedom of Information request issued to Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) on 7 June 2017. When asked for the number of children under the age of 18 bereaved of a parent in the UK, the DWP responded: “The information is not held by the department.”

The second FOI request was issued to the General Register Office on the 24th July. When asked for the number of children under the age of 18 bereaved of a parent in the UK, the General Register Office responded: “The General Register Office, which is part of Her Majesty’s Passport Office, does not hold the information you requested.”

Life Matters – the task force for bereaved families

Life Matters, the task force for bereaved families, came together in April 2017 in response to the changes to bereavement benefits.

Supported by comparethemarket.com, Life Matters has come together to improve the support available to bereaved families in the UK and to give a voice to the thousands of bereaved families across the UK.

Members of the Life Matters task force include:

  • Georgia Elms, Chairman WAY Widowed & Young
  • Alison Penny, Coordinator, Childhood Bereavement Network
  • Jeff Brazier, author of The Grief Survival Guide
  • Ben Brooks-Dutton, author of It’s Not Raining, Daddy, It’s Happy and Life as a Widower blogger
  • Debbie Kerslake, Chief Executive, Cruse Bereavement Care
  • Dr Shelley Gilbert MBE, Founder, Grief Encounter
  • Fergus Crow, Chief Executive, Winston’s Wish
  • Dr Katie Koehler, Child Bereavement UK
  • Brendan Cox, Campaigner and widower of Jo Cox

Key facts about Government changes to bereavement benefits

  • In March, the House of Commons approved the Bereavement Support Payment Regulations 2017 by 292 votes to 236
  • The Widowed Parent’s Allowance – the safety net that parents get thanks to the National Insurance contributions their husband or wife made before they died – was abolished
  • This has been replaced by a new Bereavement Support Payment, effective from 6 April 2017:
    • For those with children, the Bereavement Support Payment is a tax-free lump sum of £3,500, followed by a monthly tax-free payment of £350 for 18 months
    • For those without children, the Bereavement Support Payment is a tax-free lump sum of £2,500 and then a monthly tax-free payment of £100 for 18 month
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