The loss of someone close through death entails grief irrespective of the cause and everybody will grieve in their own personal way and for as long as it takes them to reach acceptance. The death of someone close as a result of violent crimes like manslaughter and murder can further heighten the pain and distress caused by the loss.
A child or young person who has been bereaved through manslaughter or murder may find it doubly difficult to understand and process the death. Grief often forces the mourner to ask themselves if they could have prevented the death or if they were a contributing factor. It causes doubt, anger and insecurity as there are often no answers to the questions bereaved friends and families need answering. It is difficult enough for an adult bereaved through murder or manslaughter to try and process what has happened and to understand their feelings but for children and young people it can be extremely bewildering.
Deaths caused by manslaughter or murder often attract media attention. For a bereaved child or young person having to grieve in the public arena can prove extremely traumatic. When the bereaved child or young person returns to school following the death it is most probable that rumour and conjecture surrounding the death of the person will be rife amongst the student population.
It is worth holding a special assembly or form meetings prior to the bereaved pupil’s return to allow the students a platform to ask questions and discuss any concerns they might have. Such discussions should also focus on dispelling rumours and requesting the understanding and compassion of the students when the bereaved pupil returns to school.
Encourage students and their families to inform school staff if they have been approached by the media and discourage them from making statements to the press concerning the death or the person who has died as this could prove damaging to the bereaved pupil and their family. There should be awareness of the strict guidelines on media intrusion that are enforced by the the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
In instances where the person has died through manslaughter or murder consideration should be made for the process of police investigations, trials, court attendance, post mortems and inquests that the bereaved child or young person may be requested to participate in.
Ensuring that the bereaved pupil has a trusted member of staff that they can talk to and share their feelings with is vital. If there is considerable media interest surrounding the death, the bereaved child or young person might feel that they no longer have “ownership” of the person who has died and that the latter has now become public property. If the media has represented the person who has died in an unfavourable manner the bereaved child or young person may feel they have to continuously defend them.
If the person was murdered and the perpetrator has yet to be found, this can cause great fear and panic within the bereaved child or young person. Other students may also feel anxious fearing they or their relatives too might die. Reassurance from school staff is crucial and any students who are worried should be encouraged to share their feelings with a member of staff.
In instances where a perpetrator is known and has been apprehended by the police the bereaved child or young person may still feel that they and their family are at risk. Feelings of vengeance towards the known / unknown perpetrator are not uncommon in children and young people who have been bereaved through manslaughter or murder. Such anger can be enormous and the bereaved child or young person will probably find such an emotion overwhelming.
School staff should allow the bereaved pupil to talk about their anger and thoughts of revenge. Such emotions need to be received in a non judgemental and empathic manner; left unchecked such powerful emotions can potentially hinder the bereaved child or young person’s social and emotional development.
How can I help?
- Liaison with the bereaved child or young person’s family is important, particularly when the person who has died: died as a result of murder or manslaughter. School staff need to know the facts about what has happened and exactly how much / how little the bereaved pupil and their family wish to disclose to the student body. The wishes of the bereaved child or young person and their family are essential
- If the circumstances are such that the bereaved child or young person is required to change schools, speak with the family and offer to talk with staff at the pupil’s new school in order to give them a picture of how the bereaved child or young person was prior to their bereavement. This can help new staff who do not know the bereaved child or young person to become aware of behaviours that are out of character
- If the perpetrator has not been caught, the bereaved child or young person may be extremely anxious and fearful that they are at risk. School staff should be aware of this and ensure that every reasonable effort is made to make the child or young person feel safe whilst they are at school. Other students too may have concerns that the perpetrator has not been apprehended by the police, particularly in the case of murder. Therefore, school staff should help to promote a sense of security for all pupils who are worried or scared
- If there is media interest surrounding the death, school staff will need to meet and agree on how best to tackle media intrusion. The school will need to devise an action plan detailing how media interest on school premises should be dealt with and ensure that all staff and students alike understand how to deal with journalists, TV news crews, etc, wishing to speak with them
- It is probable that students will have many questions and want to know details regarding the murder or manslaughter. Try not to avoid such questions, but rather answer truthfully, in an age appropriate manner, and give out details that the bereaved child or young person and their family have given you permission to
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