Our Blog

Supporting families after the death of a child

By Claire Dinning, Senior Nurse

I’ve been a nurse here for six years, but my connection to Chestnut Tree House goes back much further. I volunteered here as a ‘buddy’ when I was 16, providing befriending support to the children and young people. During my nursing training, I worked here as bank staff during my university holidays.

So, some of the relationships I have with the families here go back a very long time. In some cases, that relationship continues long after the child has died. Every family is allocated a bereavement key worker to provide support and maintain contact after their child has sadly died.

It might start because you were their community key worker when the child was alive, in which case you would naturally continue the relationship. If the child had already died before they came to Chestnut, then usually it’s a person who worked closely with the family while they were here, the first person they met, or simply someone who bonds well with the parents.

Continuing the relationship

When a child dies, the in-house team is there to help with funeral arrangements and paperwork, all the practical things that need to be done after a death. As the family’s key worker, you would just keep in touch, touching base and making sure that they know that you’re still there and available if they want to chat.

We’ll also attend the funeral as a representative of Chestnut Tree House, both as a way of offering our support and to show the family that we care about them and their child.

There’s one family I have known for a long time. I looked after their son while he was alive and over time, I established a good bond with his mum and brother too. His older brother used to come out with us on community visits because that was his chance to just be a sibling, without any care responsibilities. It meant that he could go to the cinema with his brother and just enjoy the experience, because I was there to give any necessary care. It was natural for me to take over the bereavement key worker role for that family. Now, I tend to go for coffee with Mum every two or three months and we sit and chat for a few hours, just to touch base and reminisce.

A listening ear

Although we have lots of support available to families, from support groups to counselling, that’s not right for everyone. They might not want to talk to a therapist, but they still need someone removed from their day-to-day life who knew their child and was part of their journey. They often want someone to reminisce with about the happy times too.

If the child was much younger and had only recently started using the service, or they came to us for end-of-life care, it’s a very different relationship. In that case, you were the person who was there for the family in the darkest time of their life. But you’re also there to signpost them to services and provide a listening ear so they can talk about things that perhaps they wouldn’t discuss with their friends. You have that understanding and it’s a more professional relationship.

As staff, we have access to the therapist team if we feel we need it and after a child dies, we have debriefs chaired by a therapist. Everyone is invited to attend, and you can either use it to share memories of the child or talk about anything we’re struggling with. These sessions can help us understand our emotions after a child’s death and overcome whatever we’re upset about. It’s also a way of coming together to show we’re not alone in our feelings and that other people are there to support us.

Holding out a hand

The role of bereavement key worker came about in response to feedback from families. Obviously, there is a huge amount of support at the end of life and immediately post-bereavement. But after the funeral, there’s a tendency for friends and family to feel they should step back and give the grieving parents some time. Everything goes quiet. And when you’ve been used to providing 24-hour care for a child who is the centre of your world, that is a very difficult adjustment to have to make.

This role was brought in to provide support during that period and beyond. During that time, we’ll provide signposting to other services. We have bereavement support groups at Chestnut which can be invaluable, allowing opportunities for people to talk about their loss with other bereaved parents who truly understand what they’re going through. Over time, we hope that the support the key worker provides will be superseded as the bereaved family need us less.

However, families are always welcome to come to Chestnut Tree House for our twice-yearly remembrance events or to visit the memory garden. It will always be a place for them to remember and feel close to their child. If you’d like to light a virtual candle in honour of a child you’ve lost, then you can make a tribute here.

Find out more about bereavement support at Chestnut Tree House

Being there for the whole family throughout your journey is a vital part of what we do, and our team are specialists in coordinating end-of-life care for babies, children, and young people – whether at home, in hospital or at the hospice.

Facing bereavement

Support available for bereaved parents, carers and the whole family

If you’re known by us already (for instance, we’ve previously cared your child, if you’re a carer of a child who’s died, or a grandparent of a child who’s died in the care of Chestnut) Please get in touch to see what support we can offer you.

If you’re not known to us – then there’s lots of other independent charities and services who might be able to offer you bereavement support:

  • Child Bereavement UK – Charity that helps families to rebuild their lives when a child grieves or when a child dies.
  • Lullaby Trust – UK based charity offering confidential bereavement support to anyone affected by the sudden and unexpected death of a baby or young child.
  • CFC – Child Funeral Charity, supporting you financially to arrange funerals for children under the age 16  (England and Wales only)
  • Child death helpline – freephone service for anyone who’s experiencing the grief of the death of a child.

Please note – External links are not endorsements by (or connected to) Chestnut Tree House.