Case study: Tina Woods, Brake bereaved volunteer

Tina Woods is a Brake volunteer whose son, Finlay, was tragically killed in a car crash in September 2008 age one, leaving behind Tina and her husband Roger, and their three children: Livvy, who was seven at the time, Dillan, five, and Harvey, four.

It was the end of the school day and Tina and her mum were on their way to pick the children up from school. Finlay was in his pram, which Tina’s mum was pushing. Harvey was holding the pram handles and walking alongside.

As they approached the school, Harvey ran ahead slightly and through the school gates into the playground. Tina skipped ahead to see where he was going because the playground was busy and she was worried about losing him. As Tina passed through the gate she heard a huge crash and found herself propelled through the air. She had been hit from behind and thrown into the playground.

Finlay’s pram was hit by a 4×4, which had crashed through a safety barrier and onto the pavement. It dragged the pram into the pillar of the school gate. Unbelievably, the driver kept on accelerating, despite Finlay being pinned against the post. Tina and other parents pushed in vain to move the car back. Everybody was screaming at the driver to reverse, but she kept on revving forwards. Eventually she had to be pulled from the car. Tina and Finlay were taken to the hospital, but tragically Finlay had died at the scene.

The driver of the 4×4 was drunk and on drugs. She showed no sign of remorse and said to Tina at the scene, “So what? Have I hurt someone then?” She had no tax and was uninsured.

With her children at different ages, they had very different experiences of the attitudes of teachers following Finlay’s death. While some were sympathetic, some gave the impression that they felt that children don’t go through grief.

The reality is that children at different ages grieve in different ways. Events like Christmas and birthdays can trigger a reaction, even years after a death. Unfortunately, teachers in schools didn’t recognise this, and they thought that the children would be fine after a few months.

The process of grieving is a continuous one. As Tina’s oldest son grew older and went to secondary school, and went through puberty, he had more questions, yet didn’t want to ask mum and dad. Life events can be a trigger for experiencing grief. Again, his teachers were not always sympathetic to his needs.

Tina’s experience shows that it is essential for teachers and support staff in school to understand that a death is not simply an event that affects a child for a matter of months, but has an impact for years as the child develops. Teachers must be aware and sensitive to the needs of each individual child, realising that life events can trigger a response and that children might have new questions as they grow. Finally, schools should provide an opportunity for children to ask questions outside of the home.