Headlines: June 15th, 2005

Young people who experience the death of someone close to them need better support services, including ‘death and bereavement’ education in schools according to a study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published today.The report says the help available to young people through schools and bereavement organisations is patchy, and varies greatly in quantity and content.

The authors of the study, Jane Ribbens McCarthy of the Open University and Julie Jessop of Cambridge University, argue that particular attention should be paid to support services in disadvantaged areas that have the highest mortality rates.

They say it is more common for children to encounter the death of a close relative or friend than is often appreciated. One survey found that between 4 and 7 per cent of young people might lose a parent before they are 16 and a similar number lose a sibling. Other research suggests that large numbers of young people never talk to anyone about their experiences of bereavement and that this increases the risk of social isolation.

Their report, ‘Young people, bereavement and loss: Disruptive transitions?’ recommends making available a range of provision, from dealing with the issues in school to peer support and specialist counselling. It acknowledges that young people respond differently to the death of someone close and that they will not necessarily welcome or need expert help. In some cases friends and families will provide key support but other young people may experience bullying by their peers, and alienation, or even outright abuse, from other family members.

The report says it is clear that young people who experience several bereavements, or other losses, during childhood are at increased risk of long-term emotional and social problems. It adds that there is evidence that the chances of experiencing multiple losses among family and friends are related to deprivation and living in a disadvantaged area.

Dr Ribbens McCarthy said bereavement could have particularly harmful implications for young people who were already vulnerable or living in disadvantaged circumstances. ” A variety of support services ought to be available so that all bereaved young people can access help, if and when they want it. These range from basic information to individual and family-based programmes, including provision for bereavement in particular circumstances, such as sudden, accidental death or suicide,” she said.