No-one knows exactly how many children are bereaved each year. This information is urgently needed, to plan for service development and to make more sense of research on the impact of bereavement on children's lives.
Data are collected each year on the number of adults who are bereaved of their husband, wife or child. Until recently, data were collected on the number of children affected by the divorce of their parents. But no similar data are collected on the number of those who face the devastating loss of their mum, dad or someone else important in their lives.
This is why we, along with Christine Jardine MP, Winston's Wish, Child Bereavement UK and our members across the country, are calling on the Government to officially record the number of bereaved children and young people in the UK. With this information, our members and allied professionals can plan and collaborate better, to ensure that more bereaved children and young people get the support they need.
On Tuesday 11 July 2023, we handed in a letter on behalf of the childhood bereavement sector to 10 Downing Street, highlighting the need to collect better data. Read the letter here.
At the same time, a group of young people, supported by Winston's Wish and Child Bereavement UK, handed in a petition asking for the same outcome: better data about childhood bereavement so the sector can support every bereaved child or young person. However, we still need your help and support - please sign the petition (as an individual) and share across your networks, so we receive a response from Government and turn that response into a conversation about this important issue.
What are our estimates?
In the absence of official data, we have estimated the numbers using mortality statistics, census data and other sources, for each nation in the UK.
How many children and young people are bereaved?
Bereavement in children and young people is more frequent than many people think. 78% 11-16 year olds in one survey said that they had been bereaved of a close relative or friend (Harrison and Harrington, 2001).
How many parents die each year, leaving dependent children?
We estimate that around 26,900 parents die each year in the UK, leaving dependent children. That's one parent every 20 minutes. These estimates are averages for the last three years (2019-2021).
How many children are bereaved of a parent each year?
We estimate that these parents left behind around 46,300 dependent children aged 0-17 each year. That's 127 newly bereaved children every day.
How many children in the current population have been bereaved of a parent?
By the age of 16, 4.7 per cent or around 1 in 20 young people will have experienced the death of one or both of their parents (Parsons, 2011).
How many children in the current population have been bereaved of a parent or sibling?
In 2004, the last time a national survey was done, around 3.5% of 5-16 year olds had been bereaved of a parent or sibling (Fauth and others, 2012). That is around 1 in 29 (or roughly one per classroom). In today's terms, that equates to around 339,000 school age children across the UK.
However, as mortality rates have fallen since that survey was carried out, we hope that the rates of bereaved children have also fallen since then.
Are some groups more likely to be bereaved?
Yes. Mortality rates vary by social class and geography, so it follows that children living in disadvantaged areas are more likely to be bereaved. Also, some groups of children may be more likely to experience particular kinds of bereavement: for example mortality rates among disabled young people with complex health needs are higher than among the general population, so young people attending special school are probably more likely to be bereaved of a friend than their peers in mainstream schools.
How many schools are supporting bereaved children?
A survey of primary schools in Hull found that over 70% had a child on roll who had been bereaved of someone important to them in the last two years (Holland, 1993). All schools will be affected by bereavement at some point.
Harrison, L and Harrington, R (2001) ‘Adolescents’ bereavement experiences: Prevalence, association with depressive symptoms, and use of services’, Journal of Adolescence, 24, 159–169.
Holland, J (1993). ‘Child bereavement in Humberside’, Educational Research, 35, 3, 289–297.
Fauth, B, Thompson, M and Penny, A (2009) Associations Between Childhood Bereavement and Children’s Background, Experiences and Outcomes: Secondary Analysis of the 2004 Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain Data. London: National Children’s Bureau
Parsons, S (2011) Long-term Impact of Childhood Bereavement: Preliminary Analysis of the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70). London:Child Well-being Research Centre.