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Children’s Grief Awareness Week

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 25th November 2015.

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Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

I thank members for supporting my motion and allowing the debate to take place this evening—it is an important evening for it to take place. I welcome people from the Scottish Cot Death Trust, Richmond’s Hope, Sands UK, the Muslim Bereavement Support Service, Child Bereavement UK, Seasons for Growth, Petal Support, Sands Lothians, affected parents and Wilma Carragher, who are all in the gallery. If I have missed anyone, I apologise; there may well be people here whom I do not know.

I will use most but not all of my speech to talk about recent pieces of good work done by the Scottish Cot Death Trust. One in 29 children in the United Kingdom today has been bereaved of a parent, a brother or a sister. Today marks the last day of the week-long children’s grief awareness week, which allowed all of us to come together and show our support for bereaved children.

When a child dies, most of the focus is usually on the adults, rather than the siblings. It is recognised that children react to loss differently, but regardless of that, children require support to adjust to change and to understand what has happened. Families who use the Scottish Cot Death Trust’s services are often worried about how their children are going to cope. When they are in that position, parents worry about their children, rather than focusing on their own grief.

The Scottish Cot Death Trust offers a valuable home-visiting bereavement support service that enables the organisation to meet parents and children together. For more specialist support for children, referrals can be made to play therapy and filial therapy, where parents are taught how to offer support to their children through structured play.

Referrals are often made to specific support that is tailored to the child’s age and available in the area where they live. To make that possible, the trust works collaboratively with a number of other organisations, including Seasons for Growth, Richmond’s Hope, Winston’s Wish, Child Bereavement UK and Simpson’s Memory Box Appeal, which is known as SiMBA. The services that are offered by the trust and all the organisations involved not only are vital to the children and families who receive them but ensure that the widest support is available. Richmond’s Hope, which is based in Edinburgh, is about to open a centre in Glasgow, which is welcome news indeed. There are so many organisations doing sterling work in this vital sector that it might be worth while for the Parliament to consider a strategy to enhance that work.

It is well known that adults find it daunting to address and explain death to children when it happens. That is made even harder when the death is that of a child’s sibling and the adults are still grieving themselves. The introduction of the two resources that I am proud to highlight this evening has helped not only adults to approach the discussion of death with a child but children who are born into a family who have lost a child.

The first of those resources is “Rory’s Star”, which is a book such as people might pick up in a nursery or school. It is well illustrated and can be easily read by children. When the book was first published, there was no other resource available in Scotland to help young children following the death of a baby from cot death. The book, which is aimed at children, tells the story of a young girl who has just begun to get used to having a little brother when he passes away. It deals with her witnessing grief during that time and attending the funeral, and it reassures children that it is okay to cry about the loss of their brother or sister. For grieving parents, who must struggle to come to terms with the sudden death of their child while still being a good mum or dad to the children who remain, the book is an invaluable resource.

Wilma Carragher’s son Andrew passed away in 1990 from cot death, aged 16 weeks. The trust invested money that she raised in creating a second book called “Andrew’s Rainbow”. It is in the same vein as “Rory’s Star”; it, too, is written for children and is beautifully illustrated.

Following the launch of “Rory’s Star”, Wilma became aware of a gap in sibling support for children who have been born into a family after the death of a child. It is important that those children, who are often called rainbow babies, are supported through any grief that they feel for their brother or sister. There will be photographs of their sibling and other family members, and their family will have important days in the year when they remember their brother or sister. They will form a bond with their sibling through their family sharing memories and looking at photographs. It is also important that they know that they are not a replacement for the child who has died, as some may wonder whether they would have been born if their sibling had not passed away.

The idea is that the child is like a rainbow after a storm. The beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears, that does not mean that the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with its aftermath; it means that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds. Storm clouds may hover, but the rainbow provides a counterbalance of colour, energy and hope.

It is complex situation for any young children who have an older sibling who appears only as a baby in a photograph. They may tell people that they have an older sibling or include the sibling when drawing family trees or other activities. They may wonder what their older brother or sister would look like. Would they look alike? Would they share the same interests?

“Andrew’s Rainbow” contains the words of rainbow children. It was written to help both parents and professionals explore some of the children’s feelings about being born into a family after the loss of a sibling.

I was prompted to bring the debate to Parliament by the two books that I have highlighted. I sincerely hope that the debate will assist with promoting the support and resources that are available to children. By holding the debate, we acknowledge the work of all the organisations that highlight the importance of supporting children and adults through bereavement, and commend the work of all the organisations that are engaged in this difficult area that is of immense importance to us all.