Support for Bereaved Children

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:28 pm on 14 September 2023.

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Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:28, 14 September 2023

I would like to start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate and Christine Jardine for sharing her own experiences, as well as for being a voice for so many children who feel forgotten during a difficult time.

I rise to speak because this topic is very close to my heart. When I was at primary school, I lost my father. As for many young people in that situation, it was a confusing time. Life changed overnight and suddenly the relationship that I had shared with him became a distant memory. In an effort to support our mother, who was coming to terms with her loss, my siblings and I stepped up and took responsibility. We essentially became adults overnight.

Our lives at home had changed, but at school there was no acknowledgement of our loss. There was no support or counselling, and we were told to focus on our education and left to our own accord. Life continued as normal, as it does for children. We never took the time to acknowledge our grief and we never spoke about our loss. We essentially went into survival mode, just grateful to have each other and be a family. To be honest, I think we essentially thought we were unaffected.

And then A-levels came. My eldest brother suddenly died and, to be honest, I felt as though the world had been shaken. I will never forget the day my mum called me at school to tell me. For the first time in my life, I experienced an anxiety attack. My brain could not decide how to react. The security, the hope and all the certainty that I knew was gone overnight.

As the weeks went by after the death, I had to adjust to the new responsibilities. I found myself learning about things I had never thought I would have to learn. I had to learn about how to bring a body back from abroad, because he had died in Peru, how to get a death certificate translated and how to organise a funeral. As well as that, I had the added stress of being told that, because my school had put me in for exams, there was no way any adjustments could be made, even though the school tried very hard, and I had to sit those exams. I know how hard my school tried and how much support they offered me during that difficult time.

As the years went by, as I discussed with my siblings, I realised that although we had thought we were unaffected, actually the situation has had a considerable impact on our outlook on life. It meant that we grew up with separation anxiety, difficulties adapting to change and many other things that we did not necessarily acknowledge at the time. I am exceptionally grateful for having an incredibly supportive family and friends, and a church community that was always there.

Sadly, my case is not unique. I hear many stories from my constituents about children who are experiencing a difficult time. Children should not have to ask for support while they are grieving; it should be a given that they are offered our support. Schools should have guidelines to support children. Care, counselling and support should be given to young children. Leaflets and clear signposting should be available so that families know exactly where to go to get support and what charities are available locally. GPs should be equipped with the knowledge to support families and to identify them once they are in that difficult situation.

We all know that grief can be difficult and can have a lasting impact on our lives. That is why it is so important, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh West said, that we collect data, so that we can understand how many children in our country face the situation every year. Then we will be able to identify the gaps in our current services and make adjustments to the current provision.

Lastly, we need to understand the impact of childhood bereavement on those children as they grow older. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh West said, research has shown that those children are more likely to be unemployed by the age of 30, and evidence from studies supports the various impacts that growing up with childhood loss can have on children. It is important that those children are not forgotten and that they are given the necessary support to allow them to achieve their full potential, to support our economy and to know that, because we did not give up on them, they were able to become the best adults they could be.