Bereavement and loss

Grief is a natural response to the death or loss of someone close.

Children and young people can experience feelings of loss due to family breakdown (e.g. separation from family members due to divorce, care proceedings or through parents going to prison) or due to the death of someone close to them (including extended family, siblings, parents/cares and also pets).

Some children and young people will experience multiple losses and bereavements. Everyone will experience grief in a unique and individual way.

It is, of course, a fundamental loss and adjustment for any child or young person to lose someone or something important to them – particularly a close family member. But with the right support most children and young people will be able to find a way to move forward. There are no limits about how long grieving should last and what it should consist of; it is a process that everyone goes through while they adjust and begin to cope with life without the person who they have lost or who has died.

But, if a bereaved child or young person struggles to cope with the emotional impact of their grief or feels unable to move forward, they can become ‘stuck’. This is sometimes known as complicated or chronic grief. When children and young people get stuck, this can result in them developing negative ways to cope with their thoughts and feelings about loss.

Identifying the signs of complex grief

Children and young people’s feelings of loss and grief can be complicated by a number of factors, including:

  • The relationship they had with the person who has died. Complicated grief is more likely to occur if the person was the child’s parent, sibling or best friend.
  • The circumstances of the death. Particularly if it is sudden and unexpected or as a result of suicide or violence.
  • If they have experienced several losses in a short period of time.
  • How resourceful or resilient a child or young person is, and whether they have good coping skills.
  • If they have a lack of access to appropriate support systems and networks, or if a child or young person is poor or exposed to substance abuse, domestic violence etc.

Top tips

Try to find out how the child or young person understands the loss

It can be helpful for school staff to know if the loss was unexpected, or if the student was prepared for the loss. It can also be helpful to know the circumstances of the loss, but this information should only be shared if the student or student’s family feel comfortable doing so.

Don't move too fast

It may be many months before a bereaved child or young person can fully cope with school work pressures. Remember that the loss will always be with them.

Encourage others to support

With permission from the bereaved student, explain to other students how they may be feeling and encourage them to be supportive.

What schools and further education settings can do

Concerned about a child?

If you are worried that a child is at risk, involve your designated safeguarding lead (DSL) as a priority. They will contact the parents/carers and other services as necessary. If the child is at immediate risk, please ensure that they are taken, urgently, to their GP or A&E – either by their parents/carers or, where parental contact is not possible, by the school DSL

Find out more

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