Annually across the world a substantial number of dependent children experience the death of a parent through a life limiting illness. The death of a parent has long term implications for children’s emotional, social and physical wellbeing1. If a child isn’t prepared for parental death or supported afterwards, they are more likely than their peers to have higher levels of referrals to psychiatric and specialist services and absence at school.
A survey was carried out to explore the experiences of hospital staff when supporting children whose parent or grandparent was dying. 67 staff members responded:
84% of staff had not had any training in supporting children Over 50% lacked confidence in knowing who to signpost families to and many were unable to identify local organisations who could help. 76% of staff have been left feeling distressed after caring for a dying patient with young children or grandchildren. 85% of staff felt that a child bereavement counsellor would have made things better for the children 79% think a child bereavement counsellor would have reduced stress for staff.
It is apparent from this review that children who experienced the death of a parent have been reliant on support provided by a work force who lacked training and confidence in this area. This has meant that we have not been providing families with the opportunity to have honest and open conversations to prepare for the death
In response to these findings the trust has collaborated with a local hospice to appoint a child bereavement counsellor to work alongside colleagues in the hospital. The counsellor will be available to provide direct support to children as needed but will also aim to improve the confidence and skill of the work force on the wards when working with young families.
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