Every year thousands of children in England are faced with the potentially devastating loss of a loved one.
Bereavement affects children in many different ways, and the reactions of young people to the death of someone close to them are affected by many factors.
Responses can include anxiety, trouble sleeping, sadness and longing, vivid memories, insecurity and worrying about other family members, anger and acting-out behaviour, guilt and self-blame, difficulties at schools and physical health complaints, to name but a few.
Tragically one-in-20 children in England have been bereaved of a parent of sibling by the time they turn 16. Last year about 33,210 children aged between five and 16 lost a parent or sibling in London alone.
Our recently published report, Reducing Child Mortality in London https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-child-mortality-in-london, reveals that bereaved children are one-and-a-half times more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness than children who have not lost a loved one.
The report has been shared with experts in health and social care, the voluntary sector and other organisations to raise awareness of this issue. As well as considering child mortality in the capital, the report includes details of some of the available resources and organisations working to support children who have been bereaved and their families.
There are lots of organisations which are actively working towards improving support for children who have become bereaved. But there is still more that we can do.
Our report shows that children are more likely to be bereaved of a parent or sibling if they are from a disadvantaged background.
But regardless of a child’s background or social status, suffering the loss of a loved one as a child can have serious short and long term impacts on an individual’s health and wellbeing, their educational attainment and employability.
Some children will need more support than others around the grieving process and the loss of a loved one.
There is more work to be done around supporting families and providing information about how children can grieve and what services are available. It’s also about ensuring a co-ordinated approach at schools, in areas including staff training, counselling services and peer support, and providing outreach and specialist support to bereaved children who may be vulnerable or traumatised.
It is vital that we continue to work in partnership to provide the most appropriate support to bereaved children.
Dr Marilena Korkodilos, Deputy Director Specialist Public Health Services, PHE London Region and CentreLondon