Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief councellor and director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Colorado, calls children the forgotten mourners.
In Canada, an average of one child in every 50 has had someone in their close family die. For us here in Toronto, Halton and Peel, approximately 13 children in every school are bereaved; which works out to be one child in every other classroom each year. Learn more about the data here.
Despite the significant number of children affected by dying and death, we know that very few receive support while they are grieving and bereaved. This is exacerbated by our, and society’s, hesitance and unwillingness to talk about dying, death and grief.
Children and Youth Grief Network
In Peel, Halton and Toronto, the Children and Youth Grief Network (CYGN) is a group of 11 organization and individuals committed to changing this. We share a passion for making sure children, youth and families have access to information and support. All of us understand and are concerned about the short and long term impact dying and death have on children or youth who do not receive good information and support.
The CYGN’s vision is to ensure every child and youth has honest information and well-informed support when someone they care about is dying or has died. Our mission is to advocate for educational opportunities and support services that will benefit children and youth who are grieving the dying or death of someone they care about.
In 2015, we conducted a needs assessment in the Region of Peel. The needs assessment revealed the need for data. There was absolutely NO Canadian data about grieving children and youth. Instead, we extrapolated from data from the U.K. and the USA.
Another key finding was the affirmation that most children, youth and families had not received any formal support and had relied on informal supports for their grief and bereavement needs.
The report also identified a number of barriers to accessing support, including those that prevent or inhibit children and youth from accessing grief and bereavement services, and the barriers reported by agencies providing services.
The barriers identified by children, parents and guardians were:
- Time and emotional energy
- Information and referrals
- Type of support
- Stigma (grief, mental health)
- Transportation and geography
- When the death occurred
The barriers experienced by organizations were:
- Fragmented vs. integrated services
- Information and referrals
- Staff education and knowledge
- Access to research and evidence
Learn more from the Peel Region Children’s Grief Needs Assessment Full Report.
Taking guidance from the needs assessment, we started working to make positive change for grieving children through the development of resources and information to support the broader community and the informal providers of grief and bereavement support, including schools, health care providers, churches, mental health providers, and other community partners.
One of these supports is a mapping feature that locates grief and bereavement service providers, which you can access through our website here.
We encourage any organization that delivers grief and bereavement services for children to get in touch so that we can add you to the map and connect you to some of the other great resources we have to share:
In the past year, we have made tremendous strides developing resources, supports and services within the Regions of Peel, Halton and the Greater Toronto Area and would like to share what else we are working on:
- A family day toolkit for groups who would like to offer events for families affected by dying, death and grief; anticipated to be available by May 2018.
- Partnering with the Family Education Centre to develop parenting tip sheets and a parent e-learning module on parenting grieving children; anticipated to available in September 2018 from https://familyedcentre.org/.
- A school information kit for teachers, school staff and administrators, expected to be released in September 2018.
Moving forward, we have started a sustainability plan to secure more funds to maintain current staff positions and to invest in new initiatives, such as our proposed project to develop and share new data on grief and diversity.
We know that the experience of grief, compounded with the intersection of other social barriers such as low income, race, immigration, disability, sexual diversity and many others, render children more vulnerable to social and emotional challenges. Yet, research on grief and bereavement lacks details about marginalized groups of children and families. We are hoping to secure funds to develop and share new data on grief and diversity to better inform our resources and services, ensuring that they are sensitive to the unique needs of marginalized communities.
Finally, we would like to determine if those of us working in the grief and bereavement space would benefit from connecting to each other and if so, what your specific needs are and how we could best connect to each other. We are conducting a national survey to identify if there is interest from organizations and other provinces and territories. Learn more about the survey from our Facebook page.
To access the survey directly, click here.
Do you work with children and youth who are affected by death? Share your experiences below in the comments section.