Every 22 minutes in the UK, a parent of a child under 18 dies. This stark figure, from Child Bereavement UK, means that 111 children are bereaved of a parent every single day.
Sadly, losing a parent isn’t the only form of bereavement faced by our young people, many have experienced losing a sibling too. Around 10,000 babies, children and young people aged under 25 died in the UK in 2016, equating to 28 deaths each day.
Grief and bereavement effects young people in different ways and Devon charity Families in Grief says that, without appropriate support, grief may cause teenagers to disengage from family life or school, or potentially increase their level of isolation.
These concerns led the charity to set up Teens in Grief, a support group for young people aged 13-19 who have recently experiences bereavement, usually (but not always) as the result of the death of an immediate family members, such as a parent or sibling.
The group is activity-based and there’s a real emphasis on having fun and making friends, however contradictory that may sound, or initially feel for the young people taking part, but bereaved young people report that this approach has a positive impact in their lives at a time when they may feel anxious or guilty about enjoying life.
I was invited to meet young people from “Teens in Grief” in Barnstaple last year when I completed an impact report about the project, which had been funded by Comic Relief.
Young people reported a number of positive benefits of the project, including improving family relationships, school engagement and reducing social isolation, in addition to indirect impact through the support offered to their parents and carers, who attend a separate support group whilst their young people are taking part in the activities.
The photo shows one of the activities that the group was taking part in when I visited; making jars where different feelings and emotions are represented by different coloured salts. Young people were also making brightly coloured memory boxes which contained photos and mementos of the person they’d lost. It’s not all art and craft though, unfortunately it turned out that I’d missed the surfing session by a couple of weeks!
To find out more about Families in Grief, visit their website here, or connect with the charity on Facebook or Twitter. In the meantime, here are a few comments from young people about how the group has helped:
“It’s better now than it was. There are less arguments as there’s not as much anger floating around in everyone.”
“The group made me understand that all children have their struggles, as we all do, and that it’s important to talk about or write down our feelings.”
“I’m going to start scouts again as soon as I feel more confident. At first I wanted to curl up in a little ball and never open my eyes again and although things have got better, I sometimes don’t want to uncurl.”