Supporting students after a violent death

A violent death is likely to have a severe impact on a child or young person.

When a loved one dies, grief is a normal response – no matter what the cause of death was. However, if someone dies because of a violent crime, like manslaughter and murder, a child is likely to be in intense distress.

Supporting students after a violent death

A student who has lost someone through a violent crime may find understanding and processing the death much more difficult.

Grief often makes the bereaved person question if they could have prevented the death, or whether it was their fault. It causes doubt, anger and insecurity – often, there are no answers to these questions.

It’s difficult enough for an adult bereaved through a violent crime to try and process what has happened. For children and young people, it can be even more confusing.

  • Check with the family how much the student and their family want the school to know.
  • Be aware of police investigations, trials, court attendance, post mortems and Inquests.
  • Understand that the student may need time off to deal with what happened and to attend trials.
  • If the student needs to change schools, speak with their family and offer to talk with staff at the student’s new school.

Deaths caused by violent crime often attract media attention. For young people, grieving in public can be traumatic. When they return to school, it is likely there will be rumours surrounding the death going around the students.

  • It’s worth holding a special assembly, or form meetings, before the student returns.
  • This will allow students to ask questions and discuss any concerns.  Answer truthfully, but appropriately. These discussions should also focus on addressing rumours, and emphasise the importance of understanding and compassion.
  • Encourage students and their families to tell school staff if they have been approached by the media.
  • Discourage them from making statements to the press – this could be harmful to the bereaved student and their family. Raise awareness of the strict guidelines on media intrusion. These are enforced by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

If there is media interest surrounding the death, staff will need to agree on how to deal with media intrusion. This will need to include:

  • How to deal with media interest on school premises 
  • Making sure that everyone knows how to deal with journalists and TV news crews.

Make sure the student has a trusted member of staff that they can talk to. They may need support with the following:

  • If there’s media interest surrounding the death, they might feel that they no longer have “ownership” of the person who has died. 
  • If the media has represented the person who has died in an unfavourable way, it’s likely the student will want to defend them to their peers.
  • If the perpetrator hasn’t yet been found, the student might feel fear and panic. Other students may also feel anxious too. Reassurance from school staff is crucial. Any students who are worried should be encouraged to share their feelings with a member of staff or counsellor.
  • If the perpetrator is known and has been apprehended by the police, the student may still feel that they’re at risk.
  • Understand that the child is likely to feel a lot of anger but not necessarily relate their anger to what’s happened to them.
  • Allow them to talk about their anger and thoughts of revenge. Try to listen to them in a non-judgemental and empathic way. 
  • It’s better for them to be honest about how they’re feeling