Context and implications document for: Death and dying : a systematic review into approaches used to support bereaved children

Duncan, David A. (2020) Context and implications document for: Death and dying : a systematic review into approaches used to support bereaved children. Review of Education. ISSN 2049-6613

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    Abstract

    The experience of bereavement is common for children. Often coming unexpectedly, death interrupts everyday life and a child’s reality becomes a social, emotional and developmental world of chaos. The potential impact of the death is highly unpredictable and complicated. There is no doubt, however, that the experience can be very memorable and stressful. Approximately 112 children are newly bereaved each day in the United Kingdom (Childhood Bereavement Network, n.d.); and, that only reflects those aged 0-17 who experience the death of a parent. Children will grieve deeply as they encounter many uncontrollable changes in, but not limited to: family structure; family finances; geographical location; school; friendships; academic competency; perspectives on life; and love and security. The impact a death is having on a child can relate to behaviour and academic performance, as well as having serious implications on physical and mental health (Funk, Jenkins, Astroth, Braswell and Kerber, 2018; Holland, 2008; Schlozman, 2003). Whether it’s the death of a parent, brother, sister, friend, grandparent or other loved one, what truly matters is how the child is feeling and how they are supported. Bereavement may impact adversely over the medium and long term (Holland and Wilkinson, 2015); grief is an ongoing process (Mannarino and Cohen, 2011). Many people will offer their sympathy to children and families - expecting that time will allow them to 'get over it' and 'move on'. However, similar to adults, children learn to live with loss. The death becomes a part of who they are as they adapt to a new life without their loved one. When grieving, children require those around and close to them to help them cope. As a significant part of a child's life, this includes teachers and staff within schools. Yet, research does suggest that practitioners need support in approaching death and dying in the classroom. This review explores the literature on approaches used to support children who are bereaved. The intended audiences for this article are teachers, policy-makers, scholars and any other professionals who may work with bereaved children. The eight emergent themes that were identified in this study are not necessarily what adults think is best for bereaved children – but the evidence captures the voices of children who have directly experienced death and is a reflection on how they were (or were not) supported. Adults do have a key role in supporting children experiencing grief and this article outlines how this can be approached in a sensitive, meaningful and hopeful way.