why mourning should be on the school curriculum

When Mariya’s older brother, seven, died of a rare brain disease, it was as if he had disappeared.

“She never even saw him in the hospital. We always thought he would get better and come home, so literally it was like he just suddenly disappeared, ”says mum Sameena Javed. “She saw him go to karate one day and the next time she saw him he was in a box.”

Ahmar died of a brain hemorrhage caused by an abnormal connection of veins and arteries at just 13 years old. He spent 10 days at the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow after the first bleed. On the ninth day he had another.

“This time they said it was worse than the first one. Insurvable, they said. They said we had to turn off the machines, ”recalls Javed. “On April 30, he passed away just after midnight and by lunchtime that day we buried him. It was so sudden.

The struggle to gain support for her daughter Mariya, while dealing with her own grief, dominated the weeks and months that followed. A new analysis of data from Growing Up in Scotland shows that Mariya is not alone: ​​by the age of 10, the majority of children will have been grieving.

And so Javed has a plan. She asks that bereavement education be made compulsory in schools.

“If children better understand grief, the feelings around grief and grief, if that were to unfortunately happen, they might be a little better prepared for it,” she says. “It might not affect them as badly as it would have been, for example, if they weren’t prepared at all – like my daughter was, like us.”

As it stands, the words “death”, “mourning” and “mourning” do not appear in the Scottish school curriculum. Instead, children learn about “loss” and “change”. While this may cover death, it becomes a matter of interpretation. Dr. Sally Paul, a social work speaker specializing in death and death, explains: “We know from some of the research I’ve done that this is not so. [the curriculum] is sometimes interpreted. Children will talk about transitions to different classes, talk about loss and change, which absolutely is, but it’s an easier conversation to have than loss and change through death.

Paul says it’s important to equip all children with the skills to deal with different types of loss, including grief. “There are a lot of examples of what is starting to happen, which is why the petition is quite exciting as it is still not officially recognized in the program. This is usually done on an ad hoc basis, depending on each teacher or each school. There is a disparity in the support children receive, in the education they receive.

Not teaching about death closes an opportunity to talk about it. Children learn that this is a topic not to be discussed. Questions remain unanswered, feelings are buried and, in the long run, society suffers.

Paul spotted the gap several years ago when working as a social worker in a hospice and receiving recommendations from schools before anyone had even spoken to a child about the death. “The person did not always need specialized support. They needed people within their own network to say that I’m so sorry to hear that this has happened, ”she said.

It’s about creating a culture that is open to discussion and engagement in the face of death and loss, so children know what grief looks like.

This is how the Resilience Project was born. After talking to children aged 9 to 12, Paul developed a framework to help schools talk about death. Through five lessons taught in P6 and again in P7, St Francis Xavier’s RC Primary School in Falkirk now introduces death as a part of life, teaches the skills to cope and develops an awareness of the needs of others afterwards. a death. The project is in its eighth year.

Paul says, “This is about creating a culture that is open to discussion and engagement with death and loss, so that children know what grieving looks like. They know how to engage with each other on these issues so that if a bereaved child comes into their classroom, they won’t go around him in the playground and say ‘What’s wrong with you? arrived ? Where have you been?’ They are better prepared to respond in a way that is helpful and supportive for that particular child.

The project not only helps students and teachers. The parents welcomed him too. Despite some initial hesitation about whether to introduce such a difficult subject in class, it “opened the door for parents to come and share their concerns, ask for advice,” says Paul.

This illustrates how schools are at the heart of communities. They need to be able to build relationships and build trust with parents and guardians, which in practice means not only isolating grief from the school curriculum, but also putting in place more policies. wide.

Child Bereavement UK Development Director in Scotland, Richard Stafford, believes having a bereavement policy in every school would be of great help.

He says: “I’ve always felt that mourning doesn’t really have a special place. We accept that this is the ultimate statistic, but we don’t really deal with it until it happens. I’m talking about society – and the school reflects that. They only deal with it if they have to answer it. If you are not prepared, this response will be in the sense of panic. Some thinking about it before it happens, I think, must be a good thing. “

Ideally, these policies would act as a form of early intervention, proactively helping to support a bereaved family rather than reacting only when behavior in school becomes an issue. “By the time we get to this point, we’ve often really missed the story,” Stafford says.

Policies would help educate staff members so that every child receives the best support. “It’s not just about teachers, although teachers are often appropriate, when I talk about school staff,” Stafford adds. “I’m talking about the dinner lady, I’m talking about the babysitter – they could be the key people, they could know more about a child than anyone.”

This principle is contained in the Mental Health Improvement and Early Intervention Framework of the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. It’s called the One Good Adult concept – a recognition that having a reliable adult is a key indicator of how well a young person copes with difficult situations, including grieving.

Such social and personal support reduces the risk of needing specialized intervention later. Without it, bereavement can lead to a range of emotional, physical, and social problems commonly associated with adverse childhood experiences (ACE).

The risk of premature death, suicide, developing a psychiatric disorder, delinquency and leaving school without any qualifications is considerably higher among children deprived of a parent, according to data collected by the Childhood Bereavement Network.

Stafford says: “Ultimately for young people not everyone needs individual or group support, but when support is needed or when bereavement has not been treated well. healthy, it can ruin lives. Substance abuse, success levels, mental health issues.

“Mourning in itself, mourning, is not something that we want to pathologize. But we have to support it where that support is needed, because it can lead to really serious results that impact the whole of society. “

The Scottish government has not been blind to these questions. In 2016, he recognized the need to review bereavement support for children and young people. At the end of last year, a call for tenders was launched for a project to determine where the service gaps lie and, most importantly, what to do about them.

Includem won this call for tenders and in March 2020, the organization took over the national child bereavement coordination program. After some initial problems due to the pandemic, Denisha Killoh was appointed project manager in September. It will consider the entire intersectoral landscape, of which education is an important part.

Killoh says, “This is obviously a huge area and a huge thing that has come up so far in our research. We made initial connections with people in the education sector. Many national bereavement network groups are represented by education – specific people who have extensive experience in this area. “

She also seeks the advice of young people who have gone through bereavement. This is not without its problems, because having to do this over social distance and via video calls makes it even more difficult to create the kind of strong relationship you need to encourage a young person to be open.

‘If it wasn’t coronavirus time I would be up and down in Scotland, constantly talking to people. This is something I would love to do and I would love to be able to go wherever there is a need for people to be heard. This is the biggest obstacle we are going to face, ”she adds.

As hard and upsetting as it may sound, death and grief will happen to everyone and we must prepare for it.

But one of Killoh’s strengths in this project is that she has her own experience of childhood grief. Her mother died at the age of 14, which also impacted her adoption. She says, “When I go to talk to people who have been grieving, they know it’s not just another person who comes to their point of view and leaves them. I can relate to them, which so far the people I have engaged with have really appreciated that.

“It’s something that happened to me personally, but it’s also about how can I channel that into a bigger picture? It is my passion and my personal experience and the personal experience of everyone else that I advocate for change and reflects the views of the community at large.

Killoh remembers a lack of formal support within her school – but she praises a guidance teacher with whom she had a close connection. “I could always go to her office at lunch and talk to her about anything, chat, and she was really, really helpful.”

But Killoh knows it’s not everyone’s experience. She said: “Obviously, it will always be difficult, especially for children, to be able to understand [death]. But if we prepare for it, if we constantly talk about it, if there are things in the program, we can prepare and support the school and the community a lot more. This is something that I have heard from a few people in the industry.

How to prepare children and what form this should take in a school environment is a delicate question. The Scottish Government prefers to avoid compulsory subjects because, as it said in a written submission to MSPs regarding Sameena Javed’s petition, the Curriculum for Excellence is a framework ‘available to schools and local authorities. to adapt to the level of each school according to the needs and in response to the needs of each school.

Despite this, the Committee on Public Petitions chose to dig deeper into this issue before making a decision on Javed’s campaign. Perhaps this is a recognition that denying death in schools is pointless. As Javed said, “As hard and overwhelming as it sounds, death and grief will happen to everyone and we have to prepare for it.”

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