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Bereavement guidance produced by Department 24 September 2008

NEARLY eight in 10 young people in the Isle of Man lose a close relative or friend before they reach 16.

The statistic is among many that have prompted the Department of Education to publish guidance documents for school staff on the subject of bereavement.

Bereavement Guidance for Children and Bereavement Guidance for Young People have been compiled to assist any staff who come into contact with children who have lost relatives, friends or classmates.

The 77-page documents contain a charter for bereaved children/young people from Winston’s Wish, a Guidance for BereavementUK charity that supports children who have lost loved ones.

They feature checklists and practical guidance for headteachers, teachers and others on dealing with bereaved children/young people and a section on understanding the immediate and longer-term effects of death on children/young people.

Guidance on how children and young people may react to sudden and violent death, as well as unresolved disappearances of loved ones, is included.

Lesson material, dos and don’t, key contacts and a list of resources held by the Department of Education and the charity Cruse Bereavement Care are also included.

Joanna Fisher, Senior Educational Psychologist with the Department of Education, explained:

‘Most children and young people will experience a death within their families or close friends at some time during their school years. This guidance has been produced to assist and support the whole school community through these difficult times. It is also applicable to those who work with young people in other establishments such as youth clubs and family centres.'
‘Research in Isle of Man secondary schools indicates that more than 70% of young people feel they have been affected by a death,’ said Gill Skinner from Cruse Bereavement Care. ‘UK figures show that 20,000 young people lose a parent every year. Statistics in the Isle of Man will be comparable. In the years 2006-7, 17 young people under the age of 20 died in the Isle of Man, leaving behind many young friends.’

Gill said:

‘Reactions to death vary according to the age and circumstances. There can be a tendency to try to protect young people from the reality. When a child suffers bereavement, they may grieve anew at later developmental stages of their life.'

A UK study interviewed adults who had suffered bereavement as a child/young person about their experience and the overriding response was that few had their loss acknowledged in school and that schools did not look at bereavement in the curriculum, something which was considered to be fundamental.

‘Experience has also shown that many bereaved children/young people feel isolated and alone, unsure of their feelings and emotions.’

The guidance has been compiled by the Bereavement Awareness Steering Group, a multi-agency group comprising Joanna and Gill and colleagues – teachers Janice Watson and Julie Owen, educational support worker Kay Payne, Marilyn Payne from Skimmee Gien Mie (Team Wellbeing), mental health worker Pat Heggs and Julie Bibby, a student welfare officer from the Isle of Man College.

Joanna said:

‘The first part of the guidance offers practical advice and procedures in the immediate aftermath of death. The second part offers more detailed information about the grieving process and how you can facilitate the process effectively for the benefit of the school community.’

Cruse (Isle of Man) offers a tailored service to secondary schools (and primary schools on request) where bereavement awareness is included in the curriculum via interactive workshops. Cruse counsellors and educational psychologists from the Department of Education attend schools following the death of a pupil to provide support for students and staff, one-to-one counselling etc.

For the past two years Cruse has organised residential weekends for bereaved young people. Both weekends have been an overwhelming success, with more than 20 young people taking part. The weekends have allowed an opportunity for the youngsters to mix with others who have had similar experiences, share those experiences, make friends and simply to have fun in a safe environment.

Gill, who works in young people’s services for Cruse Bereavement Care and is the Member of the Board of Education for Douglas West, said:

‘This guidance underpins the work/ethos of Cruse and provides a clear and easy-to-read format for staff to refer to in the event of a death in the school community.’

In the foreword to the documents, Education Minister Anne Craine MHK states:

‘I am very relieved that this document has been produced to help teachers and all those in schools deal with this uncomfortable issue. I congratulate all those who have been involved in the construction of this document.’

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