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In the second part of our exclusive interview with Rosie Mather, South Development Lead for Child Bereavement UK, we find out more about how social workers can effectively work with those who have been affected by bereavement.

You can catch up with the first part of our interview, or you can read the full article in the latest issue of Social Work News magazine. 

How can professionals prepare a child for an expected bereavement? 

This is an exceptionally difficult situation and is understandably often avoided because preparing for an inevitability could mean a loss of hope. Whatever the scenario, there is likely to be a wide range of emotions, ranging from shock, anxiety, and fear, to anger or guilt. 

Where possible, we recommend trying to work with the whole family. Although there is a natural instinct to protect children from bad news, they could interpret this as something that they have done wrong or that they are in some way to blame. It is critical that, in these circumstances, children should feel that they can trust their parents. They need clear, honest information in a language appropriate to their age and understanding. It is important that adults take the time to reassure them, acknowledge their grief and validate their experiences and feelings. 

If a looked-after child experiences a bereavement, how can social workers offer support?

This is one of the most difficult scenarios and each situation must be treated individually. When a child is living away from his/her birth family they are also removed from those that share their grief. This can make it more complicated to deal with, particularly as it may come with the realisation that the relationship can never be fixed.

Social workers need to focus on the child, and allow them to express their feelings if possible. However, it is important to be aware that if a child has been taken into care, the consequences will still be relevant, and the child’s care plan will need to be continually reviewed and adapted as part of the local authority’s review process. 

As part of our training provision, we can also provide dedicated sessions for foster families to give them the tools they need to support the grief of the foster child.

How can social workers maintain professional boundaries?

Children and adults can get very attached to people during pivotal times of their lives – sometimes, a child can become attached to a bereavement support worker as they may feel like a last link to the person that died. What we would suggest is to be clear about the work ending and plan it together in a way that supports the child to say goodbye in a positive way. It is also important to involve other adults caring for the child so that they have other people they can talk to after the social worker has closed the case. 

Bereavement is something that affects all of us, and when working alongside a grieving child or parent, your own feelings of loss may be triggered. It can be incredibly difficult to cope with the strong emotions when working alongside a grieving child or family, so it is vital that social workers are self-aware enough to know when they are being emotionally affected . As I said before, Child Bereavement UK’s helpline is always available to help social workers cope with these emotions. 

How can social workers look after themselves when working with bereaved families?

Dealing with bereavement can be extremely emotionally draining, and in these instances a formal supervision structure can be beneficial. Informally, just having a chance to offload, to talk to peers or even phoning Child Bereavement UK for information in advance of any family meetings, can be enough to help you cope with the work.

I would strongly recommend that if you are regularly working with families affected by bereavement, that you establish where your support will be, and who is going to provide it, whether that is formal or informal support. 

What additional resources are available for professionals and families? 

The charity’s website is full of useful information for professionals as well as families, and we have also developed a dedicated app which can be used as a portable resource for those aged 11-25 years. The app has been designed for use by those who have been bereaved, but there are also helpful sections for parents, teachers, friends or professionals who would like to know how they can support bereaved young people. 

Accessing support from Child Bereavement UK

Child Bereavement UK have a wide range of resources available relating to child bereavement.Helpline (9am-5pm, Monday – Friday): 0800 02 888 40
App: Grief, Support for Young People (available for free on Apple or Android) 

Have you read the latest issue of Social Work News?

Our quarterly magazine, Social Work News is out now! If you enjoyed this article, why not take a look at the range of articles in our latest issue? You can read it online or to receive the latest issues straight to your inbox, don't forget to subscribe!

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