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Gaps in REsearch

We worked with our members and with academics in the field to identify the major research gaps around childhood bereavement. We hope this will help researchers to expand our knowledge of childhood bereavement in a systematic way. 

If you are planning a research project, please do get in touch if you would like to discuss your ideas and how these fit with our priorities.

What are the gaps?

  • An absence of baseline data to enable a robust assessment of the scale of bereavement in childhood, and detailed segmentation of this data to understand the range of experiences by type of bereavement and according to various socio-demographic characteristics.  
  • An absence of longitudinal data for a cohort of children and young people to track their experience of bereavement and the impact this has on their life course over the short, medium and long term. This would need to be contextualised by comparing children who had experienced bereavement in childhood against a control group of those who had not experienced such an event. This type of data would be particularly important in helping to answer questions such as what factors are important in determining ‘risk’ of, and ‘resilience’ towards, negative consequences resulting from such a major disruption.
  • Limited evidence on  - but discussion about – the notion of complicated or prolonged grief in children and young people.
  • Limited investigation of the issue from a sociological perspective. While much of the existing research has considered the issue from an individual (psychological) perspective, little attention has been given to understanding how bereavement is construed and dealt with at the level of society, and from different cultural standpoints. This is important to provide a broader context within which other data can be viewed, allowing socially patterned differences within and between research samples to be recognised. This could help to explain some of the contradictions in the existing data which continue to cloud our broader understanding.
  • Inconclusive research into the effectiveness of different approaches to working with bereaved children, young people and their families, and a dearth of appropriate tools and mixed methods.
  • Very limited evidence on the socio-economic costs of bereavement in childhood and the cost-effectiveness of providing services
  • Very limited incidence of child-centred research. Many studies mediate children’s input through adult caregivers, or are based on adults retrospectively telling their stories of the experience in childhood. While there are clear ethical issues to resolve when considering involving children and young people in research such as this, it is thought to be in the best interests of children to be involved in order to give them a voice both in terms of articulating what it means to them to be bereaved, and in shaping the policies, services and information intended to support them.
  • Little evidence on parents’ perspectives. As noted above, while parents are often involved in research in lieu of their children, relatively little is known about the reasons why some parents accept and others decline help for their child, leaving a significant gap in knowledge about the ‘harder-to-reach’ populations and their perceptions of services.
  • Significant gaps in sampling children, young people and families who have not accessed services.

(Penny A and Rice H, 2012)