According to a recent survey, over half of Scottish children have witnessed the loss of a close family member by the age of eight.
And kids from underprivileged families were five times more likely to suffer a parent’s death.
Data from the Scottish government-funded Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) research was used in the report, “The prevalence of childhood bereavement in Scotland and its relationship with disadvantage,” from the University of Strathclyde.
From the age of ten months to the start of sixth grade, the Strathclyde research performed eight different data collections on the same group of 2,815 children, usually visited annually.
It found that 50.8 percent of the kids had undergone bereavement by age 7.8.
By the age of 10, the figure had risen to 62 percent, with the most common bereavement being the death of one or more grandparents.
Researcher Dr. Sally Paul of the School of Social Work and Social Policy said, “The results show that because of their age, children are not protected from death. At least half of that class will have suffered the loss of a close family member if you have a class of eight-year-olds.”
As a majority experience, we’re talking about bereavement, but there wasn’t a significant prevalence study in Scotland and we wanted to have tough numbers for that. Our results indicate that the figures for younger children are much higher than previous estimates, and that the death of a parent or sibling is substantially more likely for children with a lower socioeconomic status in the family.
“We believe the figures underestimate the true extent of child bereavement in Scotland because we only looked at data that reported the death of close relatives. We do not know how many children have experienced the death of significant others, such as other family members, close friends, neighbors, teachers and so on. We also decided not to include people who dropped out of the CIS study.”
“Our research has shown that there is an association between children from the most disadvantaged households and the risk of a parent dying. The risk is five times higher than for a child from an area of lower deprivation.” Dr. Paul added.
Although the study suggests that most grieving kids do not require psychiatric treatment such as therapy, it also points to research that says that bereavement can make kids prone to anxiety and depression, as well as self-harm and suicide.
Bereavement has also been associated with poor academic results, violence and unemployment.
Dr. Paul added, “Early childhood and elementary school age-appropriate education about death and grief, as well as supporting the capacity of families, peers, and community networks, could help address these issues with children.”
“This may require a significant culture change in society about the willingness and ability to have open and honest conversations with children.”
Researcher Nina Vaswani of the Children and Young People’s Justice Centre said, “In previous research, a lack of social support – including from school – has been documented as a possible contributor to feelings of isolation, loneliness and social exclusion, with some children reporting bullying and friendship difficulties.”
Yet children are very resilient, and they can and do most things with a little help from someone in their social circle. In adolescence, the rates of bereavement are so large that helping all of them by specialized programs will be impractical and wasteful.
Grief is a rather natural reaction to a normal childhood experience, in whatever form it happens, and should not generally be seen as problematic. It is about ensuring that the people around the child, whether they be relatives, friends or teachers, are positive, able and willing to speak about tough subjects such as death, and that they have discussions with children from an early age.
“It’s also about making sure no child falls through the cracks and identifying those who need extra support.”
Case Study: When she was seven years old, Mariya lost her child, Ahmar
When she unexpectedly lost her brother in 2017, Mariya Javed was only a couple of weeks short of her eighth birthday.
Her older brother, Ahmar, 13, had a rare disorder called Ateriovenous Malformation (AVM), in which an irregular tangle of blood vessels was present.