There is no set time prescribed for when a bereaved child or young person should return to school following the death of someone close. The length of absence will depend on the wishes and cultural beliefs of the family, the child / young person’s preparedness to return to school and the school's policy. Increasingly, schools themselves are recommending an immediate return for pupils. If a bereaved child or young person has been absent from school for a long period of time this can increase their anxieties and cause difficulties readjusting to school life.
Preparing for the return
School staff should be mindful that some bereaved children and young people may be anxious about returning to school for fear of having to face their friends, peers and staff. It is useful to appoint a member of staff (preferably a teacher who has a good rapport with the child or young person and whom the latter trusts) to coordinate the bereaved child or young person’s return to school to ensure that the needs of the child or young person have been discussed prior to their return to school.
Where possible, a meeting with the bereaved child or young person and their family should be held in advance of the child’s anticipated return so that the staff and other pupils are informed about how to react to the bereaved child or young person in accordance with the child’s wishes.
In cases where the child or young person has been bereaved through murder, manslaughter or suicide or where there has been media interest, it is essential that school staff are aware of the potential for gossiping and possible bullying of the bereaved child or young person by their peers.
Any violence or abuse perpetrated against the bereaved child / young person should be promptly addressed through a robust and effective policy. Before the bereaved child or young person returns to school, the appointed coordinator should ensure that they are clear about what the child / young person wants other pupils to know and how they would prefer to be received. For example a bereaved child might state that they do not want their class mates to treat them any differently than prior to the bereavement, where as another bereaved child might request that certain information relating to the death is given to the other pupils in an assembly or similar setting so that they do not feel under pressure and won’t need to repeat what has happened if continuously asked.
Separation anxiety can sometimes manifest when the bereaved child or young person returns to school. This is a very natural reaction following a death. The bereaved child or young person might appear anxious upon returning to school for fear of something dreadful happening to other people whom they are close to in their absence.
Support on return
It is essential that a bereaved child or young person is made aware of the type of support they can expect when they do return to school. For instance, the bereaved child or young person will need to be reassured that an inability to concentrate during lessons is understandable and if work is not completed on time then dispensation will be made.
It might be useful to allow the bereaved child or young person the opportunity to take time out of a lesson if they feel that they are struggling to cope. If this is agreed then all of the teaching staff (including supply or agency staff) should be notified so that if the bereaved child or young person needs to leave the lesson they are not reprimanded or asked why they are leaving.
It is also beneficial to involve the bereaved child or young person’s closest friends when devising a plan of support. Fostering the re-engagement of friendships between the bereaved child or young person and their friends will further enable the child or young person to feel more “normal” and will encourage them to talk about how they are feeling in a safe environment. It is important that the bereaved child or young person’s friends have access to support too should they require it.
When listening to a bereaved child or young person every practicable effort should be made to ensure that a quiet place where the possibility of interruption is minimal be sought.
How Can I Help?
- Make sure that all school staff are made aware of the child or young person’s bereavement and ensure that any support plans are agreed and circulated to all school staff members who will be supporting the bereaved child or young person
- Inform agency or supply staff of the child or young person’s bereavement and ensure that they are aware of any special measures that have been put in place to support the child / young person. For example; agreed time out periods from lessons, the relaxing of homework and extended course work deadlines
- Appoint a designated staff member who will act as a “support coordinator” and liaise with the bereaved child or young person and their family both prior to the child / young person’s return to school and whilst they are at school
- Encourage the bereaved child or young person to share their feelings with you and let them know that you will be available to support them whilst they are at school
- Look after your well being. Ensure that you have colleagues and a senior teaching staff member available to support you
Many of our Areas offer support to children and young people. Find your local Cruse service and contact them to see what is offered in your area.
Our website Hope Again is a website designed for young people by young people. It includes information and forums where young people can share their experiences.