Understanding of childhood traumatic bereavement needed beyond the pandemic

Child trauma experts have appealed for more awareness of traumatic bereavement, particularly in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

06/05/21

Understanding of childhood traumatic bereavement needed beyond the pandemic

Twenty-two experts in the field of childhood trauma and three child bereavement charities have joined forces to call for an understanding of childhood traumatic bereavement is needed during and beyond the pandemic.

The UK Trauma Council (UKTC) says a large number of children and young people have been affected through the death of a family member or someone else important in their life as a result of the more than 120,000 deaths in the UK throughout the pandemic.

The pandemic has created situations in which a death comes unexpectedly, without the chance to say goodbye, or where family members feel guilt that they may have brought the virus into the home, they say, adding that these factors may increase the likelihood of a traumatic bereavement.

The UKTC, in collaboration with bereavement charities, Child Bereavement UK, Winston’s Wish and the Childhood Bereavement Network, say that in a traumatic bereavement, the trauma gets in the way of the typical process of grieving, blocking the child or young person’s ability to ‘make sense’ of the death and adjust to their loss.

As a result, how the child or young person experiences or understands the death – the meaning they make of it – results in it being experienced as traumatic. They say this can happen to children and young people in any circumstance and at any age.

David Trickey, Co-Director of the UKTC, says that traumatically bereaved children experience “significant distress and difficulties, over and above a more typical grief”.

“Traumatic bereavement may be easily missed or misunderstood, meaning that children’s difficulties are not recognised by even the most supportive adults including parents, teachers and bereavement practitioners. It is vital that these children are identified and given the appropriate help and support.”

As a result of the pandemic’s “profound impact” on children and young people’s mental health, the coalition is providing evidence-based resources to professionals working with bereaved children and young people, including school staff and NHS mental health services.

The resources will help professionals to recognise traumatic bereavement, advise on how to put appropriate support in place, and guide on how to refer on to more specialist services.

David Trickey explains that young people often “grieve in puddles, dipping in and out of their grief,” adding that “if the grief becomes traumatic, it is more like a deep well, and much harder for the young person to step out of.”

Professor Eamon McCrory, Co-Director of the UKTC, said that although the return to schools will have created a “sense of normality” for some children, others will have been “intensely affected” by bereavement.

“An immediate priority is to ensure parents, teachers and professionals have the support and guidance they need to help those children who have experienced a traumatic bereavement,” Professor McCrory said.

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