Working with families who are grieving can feel daunting, especially when a baby or child has died. Some professionals may feel inadequately trained or supported to offer the kind of response they feel families need.
Nothing we can do or say can take away the pain of bereavement, but families tell us of the importance of sensitive care. Poor care can intensify and prolong a family’s distress, whilst care that is sensitive and appropriate can help families in their grief. The effects of this are positive and long-lasting.
Supporting bereaved families includes good communication, responding to their needs in a timely way, and being emotionally self-aware.
It is important to be able to reflect on your own experiences and needs, and your own attitudes to death and dying. This can help you to be aware of your own reactions, and therefore your particular strengths and any weaknesses when supporting others.
Listening to others means using all our senses to pick up on what the person is communicating, and it involves much more than just what we are hearing.
Good communication involves:
Some professionals feel they should have strong emotional control and that it is a weakness to show their emotions in a professional setting. However, as a professional, your emotions often mirror those of the family. If you are genuinely moved by a situation, it is OK to express your feelings with a warm gesture or by saying “I’m sorry”. This shows that you care and also that is it alright for the bereaved person to express their own painful feelings in that setting.
When working with bereaved families, it is generally helpful to mention the person who has died, rather than to avoid the topic. This can help families to feel their loss is acknowledged.
There are no set answers or ways of dealing with a particular situation. We are continually learning from bereaved families and finding new ways in which we can support them.
Child Bereavement UK trains and supports professionals and volunteers whose work brings them into contact with bereaved families.
The UK Trauma Council has created a portfolio of free resources for school staff, bereavement services and NHS mental health services.
Our Easy Read guides on bereavement and funerals present written information for people with difficulty reading.
Advice for health professionals on supporting children when someone important to them has died in hospital.
Generally parents or main carers are the best people to talk about sad news with their children.
Telling parents or carers that their baby or child has died.
This information is mostly aimed at medical professionals, although it may also be helpful for other professionals involved in a family’s care at this time.