Bereaved children less likely to talk about their worries

Children's Grief Awareness Week logo

  • New analysis of over 13,000 children shows that those bereaved of a parent are more likely to keep their worries to themselves
  • Bereaved children need those around them to listen carefully to their fears and feelings
  • Campaigners are calling on local authorities and clinical commissioning groups to make sure that all children and their families can access high quality support, wherever they live and however they have been bereaved

New data we published today reveals that children bereaved of a parent are more likely to keep their fears and feelings to themselves, raising concerns about risks to their emotional health. We are reminding families, friends and those working with children that they can offer vital support simply by making time to listen.

Using data on over 13,000 11-year-old children in the Millennium Cohort Study, the analysis found that children whose mum or dad had died were more likely to keep their worries to themselves (28% compared to 21% of children whose parents were both still alive). They were less likely to talk to someone at home about their anxieties (60% compared to 72%) or to share their problems with a friend (28% compared to 40% of those not bereaved). 20% said they definitely didn’t show their emotions to others, compared to 11% of those who hadn’t been bereaved.

1 in 29 school age children in the UK have been bereaved of a parent or sibling – that’s around one in every classroom. We estimate that around 24,000 parents die each year leaving dependent children.

The findings are released to mark the start of the UK Children’s Grief Awareness Week (running from 17 to 23 November), which aims to raise awareness of grieving children and the support available to them. Coordinated by the Childhood Bereavement Network and Grief Encounter, and supported by organisations up and down the UK, the week is calling on everyone to #MakeTime2Listen to grieving children in our communities:

  • Friends and families can help children to understand that it’s ok to share their worries with someone they trust
  • Schools should have pastoral support in place to give pupils extra support following a death in the family
  • Local authorities and clinical commissioning groups should ensure that every local area has a specialist bereavement service for families to turn to if they need extra help
  • National government should adjust its plans for changes to bereavement benefits, so that widowed parents have the time they need to support their grieving children

Alison Penny, the Childhood Bereavement Network’s Coordinator, said:

‘Thankfully, the majority of children do tell someone about their fears and anxieties, whether they’ve been bereaved or not. But it’s of deep concern that bereaved children seem more reluctant to share their worries with family or friends. Often, they don’t want to upset family members who are grieving themselves so they try and protect their surviving parent by not showing their grief. Some report difficulties in their friendships following a death, with friends often just not knowing what to say. We already know that feeling they can’t talk to anyone is unhelpful for bereaved children’s emotional health, so It’s important for everyone in their lives to #MakeTime2Listen, helping them share their worries when they feel ready to talk and get support’.

Joanne Anning, Chair of the Childhood Bereavement Network said:

‘It’s really important for grieving children to know they have somewhere to turn: someone who will listen to them. All too often, they feel as if no-one understands what they are going through. They need their families, friends, teachers and communities to listen carefully to them, helping them feel understood and supported. Even if they haven’t got words to describe how they are feeling or thinking, family and friends can ‘listen’ to their body language and behaviour. A young person might not want to talk right now, but it’s helpful for them to know someone is there to listen when they are ready.

‘Parents and carers shouldn’t have to cope alone. Family, friends, colleagues, schools and the government all have a part to play in listening to grieving children. Specialist support services should be available in all local areas for all grieving children and their families who need them – wherever they live and however they have been bereaved – helping them to realise someone is listening.’

To get involved use the hashtags #ChildrensGriefAwareness and #MakeTime2Listen and visit: and

About the analysis
The data come from secondary analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a longitudinal birth cohort study following a sample of children born in the UK in 2000/01[1]. These findings use data from the fifth sweep when the children were aged 11 (n=13,469) and in their last year of primary school. Cases were weighted to adjust for design features which resulted in oversampling of certain areas and groups, and for differential non-response rates.

To read the full report, click here.

About Children’s Grief Awareness Week
The Childhood Bereavement Network is teaming up with Grief Encounter and organisations across the country to coordinate activity throughout Children’s Grief Awareness Week (17 to 23 November 2015). The week incorporates international Children’s Grief Awareness Day on 17 November which was initiated in the US in 2008 by the Highmark Caring Place and has been taken up by organisations across the US and around the world.

[1] University of London. Institute of Education. Centre for Longitudinal Studies. (2015). Millennium Cohort Study: Fifth Survey, 2012. [data collection]. 2nd Edition. UK Data Service. SN: 7464,

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Brexit and child bereavement

Although more than two months have passed since the referendum on the UK leaving the EU, we are not much clearer about what this will mean for children and families in their everyday lives, and for the organisations that seek to support them. In this piece, we explore some of the potential implications. Of course, much will depend on whether the UK economy goes into recession, and we simply don’t know whether that will happen.

What will happen to funding for child bereavement services?

Before the referendum, concerns were raised about the loss of EU funding sources for the charity sector in general, although the leave campaign suggested that these could be made up by the net savings to the UK from no longer having to make contributions to the EU. In any case, we’re not aware of EU funding going directly to UK childhood bereavement services, so this change is unlikely to have a direct impact on services’ budgets.

However, there may be implications for those services which receive funding from their local authority or CCG. Those local authorities that receive direct EU funding for infrastructure or regeneration schemes might lose this in future, with implications from the local services they can fund, again unless the UK Government makes these up from net savings.

What will happen to policy change?

The sheer amount of work that will go into planning for Brexit suggests that parliamentary and civil service time and energy is likely to be snarled up for a long time. Uncertainty over political direction, combined with a huge workload, mean that it will be a challenge to keep policy issues affecting bereaved children on the agenda. However, now that the new ministers have had a chance to get to know their portfolios following the reshuffle, we are starting to write and ask for meetings to raise some of the points of most concern.

What will happen to reforms to bereavement benefits?

The Government has been planning to implement significant changes to bereavement benefits from April 2017, significantly cutting the amount of time over which widowed parents and their children are supported. Currently, Widowed Parent’s Allowance is paid until the youngest child leaves full time education, but the new Bereavement Support Payment will only be paid for one year. We have proposed cost-neutral ways in which the payments could be made over a longer period. However, the Government has rejected these, saying that a 1-year payment can be classed as a ‘death grant’ while going over a year means that the benefit would probably be seen as a ‘survivor benefit’. Unlike death grants, survivor benefits are exportable to the EU, and so the Government worries that it would be liable to pay this to the EU families of anyone who had worked here for long enough before they died. (We already dispute this, as if a death grant can be paid over one year we don’t see why it can’t be stretched over a longer period. Also, provision is much more generous in many EU countries, so given the choice, a widow(er) would be very unlikely to claim from the UK rather than from their country of residence). In any case, the Government’s position is now undermined by Brexit, and we are calling strongly for a rethink.

Bereavement across Europe

CBN has been helping to shape a Family Bereavement Network in Europe, bringing together practitioners and researchers across EU countries to share policy and practice with bereaved children and families where a child has died. We remain committed to the objectives of this work, but it is currently unfunded and our position in relation to any funded European work is now uncertain. We still hope to share, learn and influence with our partners across Europe where this is of help to bereaved children and their families.

We will continue to monitor the implications of Brexit. And whatever the shape and timescale of our exit from Europe, we will continue our work to improve outcomes for children and young people facing the impact of death on their lives.

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40,000 children hit by the death of a parent each year – local support needed for grieving children

For the first time, we have today published estimates of the number of children in each local authority who are bereaved each year of a parent. The data suggests that last year across the UK almost 40,000 children and young people faced the death of a parent. The data will help services supporting bereaved children to understand their local community better and prioritise filling gaps in provision, so that more children and their families get the help they need, wherever they live and however they have been bereaved.

Alison Penny, CBN’s Coordinator said

‘It’s extraordinary that we collect official data in this country on the number of children affected by their parents divorcing, but not on the numbers affected by a parent dying. It’s a sign that we don’t pay enough attention to this huge change in children’s lives – despite recent tragic events reminding us of the powerful impact of loss. These estimates will go some way to filling the information gap, and help us to understand more about where support is needed.’

The estimates are released to mark the start of the first ever UK Children’s Grief Awareness Week (running from 19 to 25 November), which aims to raise awareness of grieving children and the support available to them. Coordinated by Grief Encounter and the Childhood Bereavement Network and supported by organisations up and down the UK, the week has a theme of ‘Supporting parents and carers, supporting grieving children’. This is in recognition that while parents and carers are the first line of support for grieving children, they in turn often need our help.

Parents and carers shouldn’t have to cope alone. While family, friends, colleagues and schools all have a part to play in supporting them, the benefits system too needs to underpin their hard work in caring for their grieving children. However, from April 2017, the current system of Widowed Parent’s Allowance will be replaced by Bereavement Support Payment, which will be paid over a much shorter time and stopped at the first anniversary of the death.

Alison Penny, CBN’s Coordinator, said

‘The Childhood Bereavement Network estimates that three quarters of widowed parents will be worse off under the new plans, and those with younger children will be disproportionately hit by the cuts. Families with longer term financial needs will get this through Universal Credit, on condition that they are actively seeking and available for work. Those conditions will be relaxed for six months after the death, but that may still mean that they have to go back to work or start working before their grieving children are ready.

‘We’re worried about other changes to the welfare landscape too: limiting the child element of Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit to two children to new claimants from 2017 will mean that widows and widowers with larger families – born when both parents expected to live to support their children into adulthood – will suffer.

‘And despite being designed as a benefit for the 21st century, the new Bereavement Support Payment won’t be paid to cohabiting partners. Last year, nearly a third of babies were born to parents who were living together but not married. None of these families would qualify for the payment if one of the parents died.’

Joanne Anning, Chair of the Childhood Bereavement Network and CEO of Plymouth bereaved children’s charity Jeremiah’s Journey, said:

‘After the death of someone close, children need support in their grief, to be nurtured and to feel a sense of continuity, helping them weave together the threads of their past and their future. The care they get from those close to them is one of the biggest factors affecting how they learn to live with their loss. It can be a daily struggle for parents and carers to support their children when they are grieving themselves.’

To get involved visit: and use the hashtag #ChildrensGriefAwareness


For more information please contact the National Children’s Bureau’s media office on 0207 843 6045/47 or email For urgent enquiries out of office hours call 07721 097 033.

About the data
The estimates are adapted from data from the Office for National Statistics, licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

The Childhood Bereavement Network has calculated these estimates by combining each local authority’s age banded mortality statistics for 2014 (Office of National Statistics) with its 2011 census data on the proportion of adults living with dependent children, and the average number of children by family size.

The current population of 5-16 year olds has been calculated by taking the percentage of 5-16 year olds who were reported in a nationally representative sample of 7,977 as having been bereaved of a parent or sibling at some point in their childhood (Fauth et al, 2009), adjusted to account for changes and local differences in age-standardised mortality rates. This has been combined with mid-year population estimates from 2014.

About Children’s Grief Awareness Week
The Childhood Bereavement Network is teaming up with Grief Encounter and organisations across the country to coordinate activity throughout Children’s Grief Awareness Week (19 to 25 November 2015). The week incorporates international Children’s Grief Awareness Day on 19 November which was initiated in the US in 2008 by the Highmark Caring Place and has been taken up by organisations across the US and across the world.

Please use #ChildrensGriefAwareness.

Visit and for more information.

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. Our members find creative and therapeutic ways for children and their families to begin to understand what has happened and to live with and beyond their loss. For more information and a directory of ‘open access’ services, visit

About the National Children’s Bureau
The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) is a leading charity that for 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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Queen’s Speech 2015 – what’s in it for families with grieving children?

Amongst discussions of the EU referendum and the Human Rights Act, it’s tricky to identify exactly what today’s announcement of the new Government’s legislative  intentions means for bereaved families. We’ve rounded up here the key points that struck us in reading the Queen’s Speech briefing – do post a comment if you’ve spotted anything else.


First up, one of the main headlines from the Speech was the freezing of working-age benefits for two years from 2016/17. Although it isn’t spelled out, we think this will affect Guardian’s Allowance, Widowed Parent’s Allowance and its predecessors, so that these benefits will be worth less over time to families with grieving children.

We also think that some widowed parents will be affected by a lowering of the annual benefits cap from £26,000 to £23,000. Charities have already warned that single parent families are bearing the brunt of the restriction. Households where someone is eligible for War Widows or Widowers Pension will be exempt from the cap.

Work and childcare

For widows and widowers with very young children who go back to (or take up) work following their partner’s death, the doubling of free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds to 30 hours a week for 38 weeks a year will be good news, provided the Government is able to address challenges in recruiting well-qualified and experienced staff, and in providing high-quality places for children with special educational needs or disabilities.

Getting support

We know that the provision of bereavement support is patchy across the country, but even where it exists, some families don’t find out about it for a long time. The Childcare Bill will require local authorities to publish information about services and facilities that parents might find helpful. Further down the line, some families will need to access mental health support: the Queen’s Speech reiterated the government’s manifesto commitment to introduce standards in access and waiting times for mental health services.

Support in specific circumstances

The Victims of Crime bill will put key entitlements of the Victims Code into legislation. This will mean that families bereaved through murder and manslaughter will have the right to make a Victim Personal Statement and read it out in court at sentencing and at the Parole Board.

People seeking redress about the way a family member died may be affected by the Draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill which is likely to merge the roles of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the Health Ombudsman (who recently published a report on poor end-of-life care), the Local Government Ombudsman and potentially the Housing Ombudsman.

Those bereaved by the Troubles in Northern Ireland will see a range of provision under the Northern Ireland (Stormont House Agreement) Bill. This will establish a Historical Investigations Unit, a dedicated support staff and a new independent cross-border body, the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR). Victims and survivors will be able to seek and privately receive, through the ICIR, information about the Troubles-related death of their next-of-kin. A new independent Oral History Archive will provide a central place for people from throughout the UK and Ireland to share experiences and narratives related to the Troubles.

Charities providing bereavement support

The Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill (England and Wales) will make it easier for charities to make social investments, pursuing both a social and financial return.


Today’s set of announcements is a mixed bag for those families dealing with the death of someone close. While in coalition government, the Conservative Party introduced the Family Test to make sure that all new laws support strong and stable families. The test includes a consideration of what kind of impact the policy will have on families going through key transitions such as bereavement. It’s vital that they keep this question in mind as the new raft of bills progresses through Parliament, to secure the gains and mitigate the losses that this Queen’s Speech brings for families with grieving children.

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Talk. Plan. Live.

It’s great to see Dying Matters Awareness Week (May 18 – 24th) focusing on making plans for the future, for after you die, with the simple slogan ‘Talk. Plan. Live.’ Here at the Childhood Bereavement Network, we think it’s particularly important for parents with young children to do this, and our ‘Plan If’ campaign is fully behind the Dying Matters theme. Plan If encourages all parents to put in place the sort of practical and personal things that would make a difference to their children and families if they should die while their children were still young.

We asked parents with children under 18 what plans they had made and were surprised at the large number whose plan simply seems to involve crossing their fingers and hoping it never happens! We hope to make it easier for people to Talk about what might happen, Plan for the future and then Live life to the full.

We know from listening to bereaved children that security and stability are really important after a parent dies. For example, being able to stay in the same bedroom in the same house – and go to the same school with the same friends – can help a child feel a little safer in a suddenly bewildering and altered world.

For children to be safe and secure after a parent has died, the key practical things would be appointing guardians (in our survey, half of parents had not done so), thinking about a will (only a quarter of the parents in our survey had an up-to-date one) and having some insurance in place to cover the costs of a mortgage or other living costs.

The key personal things would become increasingly important as the child grows older, for example, a letter from the parent (some lovely inspiration here), maybe a card to open on a special occasion in the future and some stories about their parent and family history.

We know this is really hard to think about this. But it is really important because parents of young children do die, however tightly they cross their fingers. A parent of dependent children dies every 22 minutes in the UK. That means that around 111 children and young people are bereaved every day.

Many parents think that they will be able to sort things out when they are older, or if they became ill. Yet, in reality, one in four deaths of parents of dependent children is unexpected (car collisions, heart attacks, other accidents).

We hope we have made creating a Plan If straightforward and matter-of-fact by breaking the items down into things that can be done This Week, This Month and This Year. And once it’s done, you can get on and enjoy life! It is one of many reason why we support Dying Matters and their TalkPlanLive campaign.

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How many children?

This country collects information each year on the number of children affected by parental divorce, but not on the number affected by parental death.

Seems odd. But does it matter?

Well, apart from anything else, it makes it hard for local services to plan if they don’t know how many children in their area have been bereaved.

Thinking more broadly, the fact that this data isn’t collected routinely seems to signify that bereaved children’s experiences don’t matter to us as a society.

At the Childhood Bereavement Network, we’ve had a go at estimating the numbers using small studies with representative samples, mortality statistics and census data, but these really are estimates. We think around 23,600 parents die each year in the UK, leaving dependent children. That’s one parent every 22 minutes.

We can carry on producing these estimates, but we would much rather this information was collected routinely. That would make us all more confident about the numbers. We’d know exactly how many children in each local authority or clinical commissioning group had been bereaved in a year. And if we know how many, we’d probably know who they were, too. That could allow us to get information to bereaved families earlier about how children grieve, and how they can be helped.

We think that’s pretty convincing as an argument.

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