Contacting the family
When you first find out that a pupil(s) has been bereaved, it is important that school contacts their family. Wherever possible, this contact should be made in person, by the headteacher or another member of the senior leadership team.
As well as offering condolences on behalf of your school, and asking about the welfare of the family, you should also seek, sensitively, to gather accurate details about the circumstances of the death, particularly if you received notification about the death from a different source.
Ensuring that your school has the correct facts is crucial to prevent misinformation from spreading.
Try to confirm what information the bereaved pupil(s) have been provided with, whether they witnessed the death and what their understanding of the death is. You can also talk to the family about what information they agree can be shared – with staff, with other pupils and with parents and carers of other pupils.
Explain to the family that it is important for the pupil and their family to get specialist support, early, after a sudden bereavement. Tell them about where they can get support that meets their needs and circumstances. (See below for more information.)
You may also wish to discuss funeral arrangements, and whether it would be appropriate for representatives from the school (including other pupils) to attend, and whether the family give their permission for this to happen.
Approach all discussions with sensitivity and give careful consideration to any cultural or religious customs the family may be observing.
Agree a point of contact for future discussions about the welfare of the pupil(s) and their likely attendance at school.
You may also choose to send a letter of condolence and/or flowers.
Support for the family
Whenever a child is bereaved suddenly or too soon and a close family member has died, for example a parent or sibling, it is important they and their family receive specialist family support early on. Schools can help ensure support is being provided when they contact a family.
Support should be tailored to meet the individual needs and circumstances of the bereaved child and their family, and could include:
- Someone to talk to, e.g. helpline service
- Information about common reactions to bereavement
- Information about specialist agencies that provide support services
- Support from community workers, including GPs, police, faith leaders and social and child/youth workers
- Case management from a named support worker
- Specialist support services provided by charities and health or social services, including: face-to face support; bereavement counselling; group-based services; social events; courses and workshops; opportunities to ‘do something or make a difference’, e.g. fundraising or campaigning.
Sometimes children who have been bereaved suddenly develop symptoms that indicate a serious mental health condition that requires expert treatment.