Each year in Australia, around 1 in 20 children will experience the death of a parent before age 18. To put this statistic into perspective, at least one child in every school classroom is grieving the loss of a parent. Suicide is the leading cause of death for individuals aged 15 to 49 years old in Australia, with many of these instances resulting in a child having to mourn the loss of a parent or sibling.
The death of a parent is an exceptionally distressing event for a child, one that can have profound implications for their future development and wellbeing. Research shows that childhood bereavement causes disruptions in relational, academic, and occupational functioning later in life, and is associated with greater risk of harmful coping, mental health disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. One study revealed that bereaved children are more than twice as likely than non-bereaved children to display impairments in functioning at school and in the home. Childhood bereavement by suicide is complex, with suicide-bereaved children likely to experience anger, shame, withdrawal, guilt, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.
In Australia, official statistics concerning childhood bereavement were last reported in 2010 and the current prevalence of childhood bereavement is not well understood. As a result, bereaved youth are an often-overlooked group for whom services are under-resourced. As a society, we need to ensure each of the roughly 5% of grieving children and adolescents do not embark on a journey through life feeling helpless, ill-equipped, stigmatized, and isolated. Services and resources that promote resilient adaptation, growth, and connection to social support can help prevent adverse outcomes. It is crucial that we ascertain the scale of childhood bereavement, spread awareness, and ensure funding for grief support services that can help tackle this important social and public health issue in Australia.
Feel the Magic offer free camps, programs and resources to help grieving kids heal. As research demonstrates, timely and appropriate intervention is essential to reduce the mental health challenges associated with childhood grief. Keep an eye out if you are interested in reviewing our 1 in 20 White Paper, Taking Notice of Childhood Grief. It addresses our current understanding of the prevalence of childhood grief worldwide and within Australia. It also includes a call to action for routine data collection in service of gaining up-to-date prevalence and incidence statistics around childhood bereavement in Australia.