Bereaved children missing out on vital support in UK schools, study finds

drawing of bereaved child

Support for bereaved children in schools is patchy and inadequate, and teachers feel they lack the skills to help, according to a report from the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge.

A lack of clarity on government and school policies on mental health and bereavement has led to “confusion and disagreement” on the forms of support schools should offer, says the study, which was conducted for the child bereavement charity Winston’s Wish.

Researchers led by Professor Colleen McLaughlin found a “random approach” among schools, with students reporting receiving “only little or no help at all” following the death of a parent or sibling, and academic pressures monopolising the resources available.

Teachers feel ill-equipped

Although schools recognise bereavement as a high priority, teachers say they feel ill-equipped to offer support to bereaved children, even avoiding intervention through fear of doing more harm than good.

Consequences of parental loss can include mental and physical health problems, as well as lower educational attainment. Yet evidence suggests in many cases this can be mitigated by well-managed school support, at a time when a child’s family, also coping with grief, may not be able to provide the consistent support needed.

One parent dies in the UK every 22 minutes. These parents leave behind around 41,000 dependent children a year, which is more than 100 newly bereaved children each day.

The new study, Consequences of childhood bereavement in the context of the British school system, brings together a wealth of research about children who have lost a mother, father or sibling before the age of 18, with a specific focus on support from school.

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Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

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The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

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