Supporting Families Through Loss And Change
- Parental Separation
- Young Carers
- Children Of Imprisoned Parents
- Forces Families
When parents separate children and young people’s reactions will be individual and dependent on the circumstances and the changes it brings to their lives.
Some children will manage the change relatively easily. For others it will be a very difficult period in their lives.
Parents own reaction to the breakdown of a relationship will have a big influence over their child’s response. If parents are able to continue to prioritise co-parenting their children and provide their children with sensitive and responsive parenting then the ‘fallout’ may be less problematic.
Unfortunately, particularly in the early days children can be exposed to the high levels of acrimony and distress displayed by their parents. It is not uncommon for children to feel ‘in the middle’ of grown up disagreements.
Children and young people might show sadness, guilt and anger or even relief. Children struggle with the uncertainty about what will happen next – how often they will see their estranged parent, where they will live and whether they will have to change school.
Some children will have been exposed to unhealthy relationships between their parents – 1in 5 children experience domestic abuse in their parent’s relationships – and professionals being mindful of this can make it possible for children to share difficult experiences
It may be that children show distress in the immediate aftermath of the separation. or it could be some way down the line that a change in their behaviour shows itself.
In response some children may become louder and more difficult to manage. Others may seem quiet and withdrawn.
The opportunity to make sense of confusing feelings with a person not directly involved in the family can help children manage better. It may be necessary to highlight to parents that their child is struggling.
Things you can do to help:
Schools may be the first to recognise the impact of parental separation on the child or young person. Give the child or young person space to talk about their worries and feelings.
Where possible help both parents understand the impact on their child and share emerging concerns.
Encourage parents to focus and prioritise the needs of their child. They may need to access support for themselves if they are struggling.
There are a number of websites offering support for professionals and separated families including;
Family Lives here
Separated Families here
There are many reasons that children and young people become involved in looking after a loved one. It could be they provide care from time to time. Others might have caring responsibilities every day. The support they provide could be with physical and/or emotional care. It is important young people are supported in this role
Families can worry that they will get into trouble because their children are involved in caring duties.
This can make some families reluctant to ask for support that could minimise the impact of caring on their children.
When a child is a young carer it is important they are able to access the help that allows them to get the education they need, and the fun they deserve.
Research shows without support young carers can miss, or cut short an average of 48 school days a year. This affects their education and time with their friends. Young carers can struggle with their emotional wellbeing because of the demands of their caring role. Accessing the support available can make a big difference now and in the future.
Things you can do to help:
If a pupil in your school is a young carer a collaborative approach between school and home can make all the difference. Making a plan that is sensitive to the family’s needs, as well as making sure they are accessing all the support available for the child to thrive.
Professionals have a responsibility to identify Young Carers and provide support.
• Norfolk County Council offer a package of support for young carers you can find out more about what a family can expect in Norfolk *here*
• The first step to ensure best support is a referral to Norfolk Family Focus Early Help for a Young Carers Needs Assessment.
• ‘Carers Trust’ provide a ‘step by step’ guide to help schools support young carers in their school.
• 'Norfolk Family Carers' provide support to young carers.
Get the 'Carers Friendly Tick Award' - find out more *here*
There are an estimated 200,000 children affected by parental imprisonment each year. These children and their families are more likely than their peers to suffer poor physical and mental health, isolation, stigma and poverty.
The stigma of a family member being in prison can mean that children do not share with school or friends what is happening. This makes it harder to support families. If school does know that a parent has been imprisoned there are support services available to help children and families.
Things you can do to help:
Early identification and intervention can minimise the impact of having a parent in prison.
There are organisations that can help families and schools to support the children of prisoners.
Prison Advice and Care Trust offers advice for schools.
Families Outside offers information for professionals.
Hands On has information on supporting children of prisoners.
Children of military or service families are exposed to unique experiences, which may include; separation from a parent, frequent moving of house, caring for a sibling or parent, taking responsibility for the household or sudden deployment from a combat zone – all of which may impact on the way children lead their lives both now and in the future.
Service children who face regular moves from home and school can suffer high levels of anxiety and stress, also their health and their ability to learn may be disrupted especially when their parents are deployed to armed conflicts overseas.
Things you can do to help:
When schools are aware that a child’s family are from a military family they can apply for Service Pupil Premium. This can allow for additional pastoral support for this group of children. Good communication between home and school can make a big difference. When staff are aware loved ones are away from home or there are particular stresses children can be better supported by their school family.
The websites below offer specialist information and support for families of armed forces
• SSAF – the armed forces charity *here*
• Armed Forces Covenant *here*
• The British Legion *here*
Understanding Childhood Bereavement
Whatever age we are the death of a significant loved one is a life changing event.
- Every 22 minutes a parent of dependent children dies in the UK
- Up to 70% of schools have a bereaved pupil on their roll at any given time
- 92% of young people will experience a significant bereavement before the age of 16 years.
(Child Bereavement UK)
When a loved one dies during childhood grief may be complicated
• by the relationship between person and the child
• the nature of the death; was the death expected / unexpected?
• the impact of the death on the people they rely on; for example the mental health of a surviving parent
• the age and stage of the child / young person and it’s implication on their understanding of what has happened
• People trying to ‘protect’ the child from the reality of the loss
When you are bereaved as a child your understanding of what you have lost changes as you grow and develop. What you miss about your Dad aged five will be different from what you miss at 17. Children need to revisit and reconnect with the person who died throughout their lives and make sense of their loss.
Their grief tends to ‘ebb and flow’ particularly at points of transition like changing class or starting new schools.
One of the most important things those working with bereaved children need to understand is the longitudinal nature of grief for children and young people.
You may see the fallout of grief many years after the loss. It is important that information about a child’s significant loss is passed on throughout their school life. Children and young people may need to access help to make sense of their grief on and off throughout the years
Children tend to ‘puddle jump’ their grief; this describes how children may be distraught one minute and the next be playing happily with friends.
Children and young people cannot stay with such strong emotions for long and will ‘take a break’ from them when they can. It does not mean that they are ‘using’ their sadness or are ‘over’ their loss Parents and friends may need help to understand this. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Children’s understanding of death, particularly its permanence, evolves over time. You can find out more about the ‘ages and stages of grief *here*
For many years Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s work on the ‘5 stages of grief’ was thought to explain the grieving process. It suggested that the grieving process moved smoothly through the stages beginning with denial and ending in acceptance. As anyone who has suffered a loss will tell you can do all the stages in a day and back again because grief is not orderly.
In 2008 William Worden described the 4 tasks of mourning – which he described as the ‘work of grief’ and was a more dynamic, changeable description. The tasks are;
• Accept the reality of a loss
• Feel the pain of the loss
• Adjust to a world without your loved one
• Find an ongoing connection with the deceased whilst moving forward in life
Worden’s work took away the pressure to ‘accept’ and ‘move on’ focussing instead on moving forward and carrying an ongoing connection with you. (Read more here)
Things you can do to help:
Death and dying has been described as the ‘last taboo’
School staff can help by being open to discussing death and dying when the opportunity arises.
This can be as simple as helping small children notice the differences between ‘dead and alive’. For example a dead bird in the playground is an opportunity for children to see that dead means your body stops working – not breathing, not flying, not asleep.
Use the words ‘dead’ and ‘dying’
Words such as ‘lost’, ‘passed on’ ‘gone to sleep’ etc. (there are many euphemisms for death!) are unhelpful to children.
Small children particularly struggle to make sense of these words – In their experience if something is ‘lost’ it can also be ‘found’. They may become worried about going to sleep if it has been used as a way to describe ‘dead’.
Children can manage the words death and dead from very young ages if they are given an age appropriate explanation of what it means.
Keep in touch with the family
Creating good communication between home and school from the outset can make a big difference. Signpost the family to the organisations and resources below so that they can better understand the needs of their children. Check in with the family from time to time; how the wider family are coping impacts on how a child will cope. Encourage other family members to seek support for themselves if this seems appropriate
Consider what other pupils need to know
It can be helpful to give peers the chance to talk about what has happened to their friend and understand how their friend might be feeling.
Talk to the child about what has happened
When a child returns to school after bereavement find some moments to tell them you are thinking about them. Ask them what they think might help them.
Bereaved children and young people tell us that people avoid talking about what has happened to them. A sad thing has already happened - mentioning it will not make it worse. Children & young people vary in how much or how little they want to talk their loss; be led by the individual.
Be sensitive to ‘hard days’
The build up to individual special days like birthdays and anniversaries can be hard. There are also mother’s / father’s day or Christmas to manage. It could also be days like sports day or school reports day. Ask the individual what they think would help them with this. Winston’s Wish has some suggestions *here*.
When to seek specialist support
Many children and families will cope with the sadness of the death of a loved one without specialist support.
If they are displaying signs of emerging mental health problems that are concerning their family and/or school staff further assessment may become necessary.
They may be displaying risky behaviours or be struggling with school attendance.
Children and young people may continue to be overwhelmed by their feelings such as intense distress, anxiety or anger and they may benefit from more specialist intervention.
These concerns may emerge around the time of the loss or it can be some time afterwards.
You might signpost the family to the GP. The family or schools can call our services on the number below for advice. You could also refer to a local service like Nelson’s Journey or CRUSE bereavement care.
How Can We Help?
Just One Norfolk Access the health advice website to explore a variety of health issues. This website is consistently being reviewed and updated.
Parent Activation Measure This helps parents think about their knowledge skills and confidence in understanding and supporting their children or unborn babies.
Just One Number Call to speak to a health professional by phoning 0300 300 0123. They will be able to provide initial advice and support and guide next steps with us or signpost you to other more relevant agencies and professionals. It is available 08.00 to 18.00 Monday to Friday and 09.00 to 13.00 on Saturdays
ChatHealth Children and Young people can access us through our text messaging service on 07480635060. They will be able to discuss any health concerns with one of our Practitioners and also be able to request an appointment if they would prefer to meet with us.
Parent Line Parents can access our services by texting our number 07520631590 . This allows them to access the advice and support from a clinician about any health issues affecting their children aged 0-19.
JustOneNorfolk Health Passport app Young people age 16-19 can download this app on apple or android phones. It provides young people age 16-19 with general health information and advice to increase health literacy. It signposts to services and promotes self care. It aims to increase resilience and wellbeing and to find out how to access health services.
Health Unlocked Parents can be signposted to this. It is a carefully monitored online community forum which allows local parents and carers to talk with each other regarding issues affecting their children. This can be accessed through our Just One Norfolk website.
Solihull Parenting Online For our Norfolk parents there is the opportunity to access this free of charge through JustOneNorfolk. It supports parents in understanding their children from 0-19 via 4 modules.
Staff working with children and families will also benefit from this – or they can book to do the two day Solihull Training provided by our service by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org