Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

invisible children

My little boy turned seven a few weeks ago. His birthday is always incredibly bittersweet for me. With every year that goes by, I’m reminded of how much further he moves away from his mother’s physical being. She was killed just after his second birthday.

Clearly, as a single parent, he is the main focus of my life and the centre of my universe. He’s such an incredible child: funny, clever, spirited and so emotionally intelligent. His presence is what strikes me most, though; he’s just so incredibly alive.

That’s why I was so shocked to learn that – as a bereaved child at least – my son doesn’t officially exist. This came to light as a result of a freedom for information request by Life Matters: The Task Force for Bereaved Families, which I chair. In order to establish the scale of family bereavement across the nation, we asked the General Register Office and the Department of Work and Pensions for the number of children bereaved of a parent in the UK. Both stated: ‘The information is not held by the department.’ The information, in fact, is not held by any department.

While the Office of National Statistics collects data annually on the number of children affected by the divorce of their parents, no record is made when a deceased parent leaves dependent children behind. This means that, just like my son, all bereaved children in the UK are essentially ‘invisible’ to the Government, making it difficult to know how many children in a given area are likely to need support.

This is just one of six headline issues that the Life Matters task force has identified since it was set up in April 2017, in response to the dramatic slashing of bereavement benefits. To mark Children’s Grief Awareness Week, the task force presented the issues and corresponding report and recommendations to MPs and policymakers at the House of Commons earlier this week. Each is designed to help improve the emotional and financial support that those affected by bereavement receive.

The recommendations include:

  • Adapting the information registered at death to include any details on dependent children of both married and unmarried couples
  • Training all teachers and carers of children on how to manage and support bereaved children
  • A call for the Government to confirm that Personal, Social, Health & Economic Education (PHSE) will become statutory, so that all children can learn about bereavement and grief within a safe, supported and age-appropriate curriculum
  • Introducing a cross-Government bereavement strategy, and identifying a Government lead for this
  • A call for every organisation to have a bereavement policy and procedures
  • A call for the Government to open a new consultation into how it can better support bereaved families following the scrapping of Widowed Parent’s Allowance earlier in 2017

The task force has created a new film entitled Dear MP, which acts as a letter to MPs calling for their support on the policy recommendations. Featuring Jeff Brazier – father to two sons bereaved of their mother, task force member and author of The Grief Survival Guide – the film is available to view and share here. This campaign page, supported by comparethemarket.com, also provides a link to the full task force report and a resource to help find local MPs’ details to share the film.

We live in a country that is far better prepared for birth than death. In his new book, Thinking Out Loud, Rio Ferdinand says, ‘When a baby is born, you can’t move professional advice. But when someone dies, you’re on your own.’

We need to act together to help change this. We need to build a more compassionate society with equally defined frameworks to support families following a death as we do following a birth. Frameworks that can support families that suffer death just as we do for those who celebrate life. And that’s exactly what the Life Matters task force set out to achieve: better support for all bereaved families. Please help us by sharing the film with your local MP.

6 comments on “invisible children

  1. shazna Matthias
    November 16, 2017

    Ben,

    So true, as Rio comment, most people just dont knwo what to say and want you to get better, how can a child overcome loss of parent, although we all have to build resliance, but most including the workplace have little understanding of grief. I am fortnate althought i lost my husband 1 year on 20th November next year, I run my own business and have been able to take time off and also offer support to by 2 boys, but ,most people soon dispear and have no idea what to say, its a lonely road. I was told about your loss by a friend my my own fog of grief didnt alkow me to right in, loss along with shock and truma is like a phycial illness itself and then bringing up children alone overnight can just takes its toll on us!

    I would really like to be invloved to bring change, the charties like Crurse and Winston Wishes are just worth there waiting gold…

    Happy Birthday for your little boy i only understand the heartache too well.

    Best wishes for future,

    Shazna Matthias

  2. bethlphillips
    November 16, 2017

    Hi Ben,
    I have concluded over the last year that Pupil Premium funding would be the best way of supporting bereaved children in schools. It is funding for children who are ‘the most vulnerable’, which currently includes children from low income families, looked after children and children whose parents are working in the Forces. I believe our bereaved children should be included within this category. It provides funding for seven years to ensure that children make good progress. In the case of bereaved children, it would enable schools to be creative and fund extra counselling, art/music therapy etc.. or one-to-one classroom support at particularly difficult times. As a widowed parent, I am fortunate enough to provide for my boys at home, but what I can’t do is provide extra to meet their needs at school. Therefore, in my opinion, including bereaved children in the Pupil Premium category would be a fair way of giving them additional support there. From the many bereaved families I know, it is clear that the loss of a parent is something that affects children throughout their school careers, not just in the immediate years after their bereavement. Long term funding would support schools in providing effectively for these vulnerable children. If I can be of any assistance, do give me a shout. Beth

  3. Karen irving
    November 16, 2017

    This defiantly needs addressing my children’s school we’re fab when I lost my husband but it true they are lost and forgotton x till your in that position you really don’t understand and all that matters is your childrenxxx

  4. Claire Bowers
    November 16, 2017

    I have asked (schools, nurses and health visitors) to be part of Any forums on this just this week. I lost my husband suddenly without illness 1 year ago. Our children are 18 and 8. We live in Wales and have no support from groups, organisations, or extended family. School/college could make a huge difference at this time…but aren’t. My son (8) received 4 sessions of counselling at home. This involved making crafts at home. Talking didn’t work as he couldn’t engage at time they specified. Having a member of staff available at school when children require it would be the most efficient way to support their needs. Curriculum and targets are secondary to emotional support and wellbeing during such trauma. I wish the needs of our children were prioritised.

  5. victoriawhyte
    November 18, 2017

    Thanks Ben for all that you do on behalf of bereaved families.

  6. Jackie Danicki
    November 21, 2017

    This matters too much to leave it in the hands of corrupt politicians and incompetent government. Do no charities for bereaved children (e.g. Winston’s Wish) record their own data? It would be interesting (and I daresay more productive) to compare data sets and look at ways of strengthening existing, non-governmental means of establishing this framework.

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