Children-specific bereavement support within employee benefits is underutilised

Bereavement support for children is often embedded within employee benefits but is too often underutilised according to RedArc, ahead of Child Grief Awareness Day on 18 November 2021.

The nurse-led health and wellbeing service believes this deficit is due to a lack of employer awareness that children-specific bereavement support is in fact often embedded into employee benefits (such as life assurance) that they already provide. This lack of awareness among employers means staff are not informed about its availability or how to access support.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc says: “Children can have some very specific fears and concerns at this traumatic time and it’s highly likely that if a child is grieving, their parents, guardians and carers are too. Both of these issues make supporting a bereaved child particularly difficult.

“Employers can show their concern for grieving staff by ensuring support is communicated and that staff engage with that support when it is most needed by themselves and their families.”

Several factors have an impact on children during a bereavement. These include, but are not limited to, their relationship to the person who has died, how regularly they saw or interacted with that individual, the nature of the loved one’s death, as well as the child’s age, maturity, mental or physical health needs and their wider family circumstances.

Support needs to acknowledge these factors and be simultaneously broad but bespoke. It needs to cover:

– Guidance about how to discuss the circumstances of the death itself in honest language that the child can understand
– Guidance in deciding whether a child should attend a funeral and the support they may need prior to and during the event itself
– Referral for counselling or therapy and liaison with NHS services and Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services – particularly where a child has additional health needs or has special educational needs or disability
– Where a parent feels the child’s grief needs additional support, signposting to national or local bereavement support organisations for specialist help
– Guidance on how to liaise with the child’s school and other educational or recreational settings
– Direction in supporting the child over the longer term in expressing their feelings and in remembering their loved one

RedArc warns that unresolved childhood grief can continue to impact adults later in life. So it is vitally important that any experience of bereavement in children is dealt with, and dealt with truthfully, whilst they are still in an environment where they can ask questions comfortably and get the support they need. A failure to do so can have a much longer term impact on the individual’s mental health.

Christine Husbands concluded: “When compassionate leave is granted, it is generally so short that it does not allow the individual to deal with their own grief, or that of their children, in any meaningful sense. In many cases, employees also choose to go back to work to provide a routine and sense of normality. Many employees will have made a return to their workplace when dealing with the immediate and longer term emotional impact of bereavement for themselves and their families.

“Supporting children through bereavement is enormously difficult and sometimes all-consuming for parents. Many employers already have the means to help their staff feel better equipped to deal with the issues that arise when a child is grieving but are not aware that this is included in their existing employee benefits programme. Too many employers and employees wrongly assume the support is only available for the employee rather than their dependants too, and it’s important that they’re aware of the support they’re able to access.”