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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 Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I congratulate Gil Paterson on securing the debate. I welcome all the different groups to the gallery. I looked only into the two groups that are mentioned in the motion: Grief Encounter and the Scottish Cot Death Trust. However, I would also like to thank the childhood bereavement network and Marie Curie for their useful briefings.

I suppose that most people say that all deaths are equal, but it always seems to me that the most terrible deaths are when a parent loses a child or when a child loses a parent. The Scottish Cot Death Trust is perhaps best known to the public as a result of the grief that parents feel when they lose a child. We are told that in Scotland a baby dies every nine days from cot death. That is absolutely awful and devastating for parents, but the motion emphasises that it can also be a heart-rending experience for the sibling of the child who has died. We can imagine that if we think of having to explain the sudden absence of a new life to a confused sibling. That is what the books that Gil Paterson has described seek to do—they are an honest and heartfelt way of answering some of the most profound and difficult questions that a child can ask in such a situation.

More generally, the trust seeks not only to support families, but to educate the public and professionals about how to reduce the risk of cot death. I pay tribute to it for its work.

In its briefing, the childhood bereavement network emphasises that children need support in grief. It also points out the long-term consequences, as well as the immediate consequences, if we fail to provide that support. We must bear that in mind.

The trust’s briefing also reminds us about how many children are affected in Scotland each year. Five per cent of children have been bereaved of at least one parent by the age of 16. It also emphasises the importance of schools and having sensible and flexible people and systems to provide support. That connects with one of Marie Curie’s two recommendations: that awareness of grief and bereavement should be built into the curriculum for excellence. Marie Curie also recommends that there should be a national co-ordinator for childhood bereavement in Scotland. I hope that the Government will reflect on those suggestions.

Grief Encounter is the other organisation that is mentioned in the motion. It also works incredibly hard to help children grapple with loss and death. It supports the family as a whole in such situations and aims to work closely with professionals in the sector, providing training to counsellors, teachers and company employees—people who work closely with children who have experienced loss.

As the motion reminds us, Grief Encounter organises children’s grief awareness week, which I think started on 19 November. It was very moving to read about the candle ceremony that commences the week’s events—a poignant way to remember loved ones who have been lost. The theme this year is supporting parents and carers who support grieving children. Grief Encounter also runs a helpline, which currently supports more than 300 people annually.

I pay tribute to the work of Grief Encounter, the Scottish Cot Death Trust and all the organisations concerned—those that are represented in the public gallery today and those that are not—that work in this very important field.