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Bereavement in childhood: risks, consequences and responses
  1. Al Aynsley-Green,
  2. Alison Penny and
  3. Sacha Richardson
  1. Childhood Bereavement Network, National Children's Bureau, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Alison Penny, Childhood Bereavement Network, National Children's Bureau, 8 Wakley Street, London EC1V 7QE, UK; apenny{at}

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Children and young people often report feeling alone and different following the death of someone important in their lives. While no routine data are collected in the UK on this group, estimates suggest that, in fact, the majority of young people face the death of a close relative or friend by the time they are 16 years old.1 Five per cent of young people have been bereaved of a parent by this age.2 Around 1 in 29 school-aged children have been bereaved of a parent or sibling and 1 in 16 have experienced the death of a friend.3

Background characteristics of bereaved children

Varying mortality patterns by social class and geography affect the risk of bereavement.1 At birth, children who go on to be bereaved of a parent are less likely than their peers to have parents with some experience of extended education or a father in a professional or managerial occupation, and more likely to have a father not in work.2 Higher levels of disadvantage persist: greater proportions of children bereaved of a parent or sibling live in economically inactive or low-earning households than their peers.3 These children are also more likely to have experienced other stressful events including a parent having a physical illness, serious mental illness or financial crisis and the child spending time in public care. These additional difficulties may precede or follow the death; some are linked to it while others are independent.3

The impact of bereavement in childhood

Common children's grief reactions in-clude sadness and crying, anxiety (including about their own or others' safety), guilt, anger and acting out, physical difficulties including somatic symptoms, illness and accidents, problems at school, sleeping difficulties, and vivid memories.4 While many grief reactions abate, others can persist or emerge. By 2 years after the death of a parent, children's self-esteem and …

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  • Funding This editorial received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests AA-G, AP and SR are respectively the Patron (unpaid), Coordinator (paid) and Chair (unpaid) of the Childhood Bereavement Network

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.