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9.3 Support for Staff Following the Death of a Child

This chapter was introduced into the manual in March 2013.


Caption: contents list
  Understanding Bereavement / Loss
  Supporting Staff and Colleagues
  Further Support


Professionals working with children and young people frequently experience difficult and challenging situations as well as hugely rewarding and empowering experiences, all of which can have a positive or negative effect their psychological and emotional wellbeing. One of the most distressing experiences professionals are likely to encounter is when a child or young person they have been working with tragically dies in unexpected circumstances.

When this happens agencies need to ensure they recognise and appreciate the impact this can have on staff and colleagues and ensure they provide appropriate support and in some cases assist people in accessing more specialist counselling or therapeutic services.

It is recognised that each agency has detailed procedures and processes to follow when a child dies to ensure its responsibilities are discharged with due diligence. However, it is also felt that the emotional impact on staff who worked with the child or family should not be overlooked or minimised in any way.

Understanding Bereavement / Loss

Bereavement affects people in different ways but experts generally accept that there are four stages of bereavement:

  • Accepting the loss is real;
  • Experiencing the pain of grief;
  • Adjusting to life without the person who has died;
  • Moving on - putting less emotional energy into grieving and putting it into something new.

Most people go through all these stages, but won’t necessarily move smoothly from one to the next.

Someone's grief might feel chaotic and out of control, but these feelings will eventually become less intense over time. It is normal for people to feel:

  • Shock and numbness (this is usually the first reaction to the death, and people often speak of being in a daze);
  • Overwhelming sadness, with lots of crying;
  • Tiredness or exhaustion;
  • Anger, for example towards the person who died, their illness or a/their God(s);
  • Guilt or regret about not doing or saying something which could have made a difference.

The final point above will likely be the most relevant to professionals who have worked with the child or family, the other factors will more likely apply to family members and relatives though professionals/practitioner may also experience these to some degree.

It is also common for people to become forgetful or distracted by their grief which can affect their ability to concentrate or work to their usual standards.

In some cases shock and denial can often delay the grieving process and it may seem that a person is coping well, often it is when things begin to get back to 'normal' that the grieving process hits.

Supporting Staff and Colleagues

Everyone is different and it needs to be recognised that what helps one person may not be as helpful to someone else. However, experts agree that the following things can all help people in dealing with grief:

  • Talking and sharing feelings with someone, such as a trusted colleague, friend or family member;
  • Acknowledging feelings without minimisation;
  • Talking about the child who has died rather than avoiding mentioning them;
  • Taking time out or some time off work;
  • Distraction – e.g. going for a walk, doing something different;
  • Remembering and talking about good memories of the child;
  • Laughter is the best medicine – try and find something to humour someone;
  • Offer practical assistance with day to day tasks which can be more difficult during a period of grief;
  • Come together as a team to talk about the child and how people are feeling;
  • Recognise that staff may still need support well beyond the initial shock and acceptance.

It should be borne in mind that support for staff or colleagues may be complicated by confidentiality procedures or legal processes which prevent the case being discussed beyond immediate colleagues. Any group support should be lead by a suitably experienced practitioner and should concentrate on facts, feelings and the future rather than an in depth look at practice issues.

It should also be noted that a number of events following the death may trigger further distress for professionals such as any related legal proceedings, the inquest, media attention or a Serious Case Review. These may potentially cause distress and increase the support needs for professionals involved in the case.

Professionals who are parents with children of a similar age or who may have had a similar personal experience may also be particularly vulnerable in these circumstances.

Further Support

In some cases staff members who have been particularly traumatised may need to be referred for more specialised bereavement counselling or therapeutic support. Many large organisations have in house support services for employees which should be accessed as appropriate. However, smaller and voluntary organisations may need to seek external services.

The following organisations all provide bereavement services in Lancashire:

Further Information