Bereaved children: How are their needs understood and addressed?

  • Frances Roberts

Student thesis: Doctor of Educational and Child Psychology


It is estimated 3-5% of British children experience a significant bereavement by the age of 16 (Fauth et al., 2009) equating approximately to one child in every class (Child Bereavement Network, 2018). Yet research suggests schools often feel ill- equipped to meet the needs of bereaved children (Holland, 2001). Effective parenting is recognised as a protective resource promoting positive adaptation (Kwok et al., 2005; Lin et al., 2004). This thesis explores the experiences and views of those providing support to bereaved children. A systematic literature review of qualitative research studies published between 2000 and 2018 sought to explore caregivers’ experiences of parenting bereaved children. Fourteen research studies were subject to systematic review and findings were thematically synthesised. Outcomes illustrated challenges commonly faced by surviving caregivers including understanding children’s developmental responses to bereavement and coping with additional parenting responsibilities. Family, community and external service support systems were recognised as protective resources. A further empirical qualitative survey was conducted with primary school staff at a research site in the North West of England. Questionnaires were completed by staff members about their professional experiences working with bereaved children. In- depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with five staff members. Findings were thematically analysed. Outcomes demonstrate staff recognise the impact of bereavement in school through overt internalising and externalising behaviours. Findings suggest staff are ready to support bereaved pupils but need to be equipped with knowledge and understanding to do so. Ways in which staff address the needs of bereaved children are identified and factors influencing practice are discussed such as levels of experience, parental engagement and information sharing. Findings are discussed in relation to theory and research including the Contextual Resiliency Model (Sandler et al., 2007). Implications for future research and professional practice are considered acknowledging the role of educational psychology in supporting school system approaches to bereavement. Future dissemination practices are proposed in facilitating evidence-based practice within schools.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPhilippa Grace (Supervisor) & Catherine Kelly (Supervisor)


  • school
  • caregiver
  • adaptation
  • bereavement
  • child
  • grief

Cite this