Why We Do It

6% of children under age 18 will experience the death of a parent.1 This currently translates into close to four million children. Sadly, this statistic does not include the death of a sibling, grandparent, close family member or friend. These children and adolescents ultimately suffer two tragedies: the devastating death of a loved one, and needs that are not recognized, understood or supported by our society.

Grieving children are at risk for depression, anxiety, poor school attendance or dropping out, isolation, behavior problems, lowered academic achievement, drug and/or alcohol abuse, incarceration or suicide.2 These risks can actually increase during the second year of bereavement and beyond, and the teen and young adult years can be especially problematic.3

There are seven significant differences between bereaved children and their non-bereaved counterparts:4

  1. Higher levels of depression
  2. An increase in health problems and accidents
  3. Significantly poorer school performance
  4. Significantly more anxiety and fear
  5. Significantly lower levels of self-esteem
  6. A significantly higher feeling of loss of control over their environment
  7. Significantly less optimism for success later in life.

The Bereavement Needs of Grieving Children include:5

  1. Adequate information
  2. Fears and anxieties addressed
  3. Reassurance they are not to blame
  4. Careful listening
  5. Validation of individual’s feelings
  6. Help with overwhelming feelings
  7. Involvement and inclusion
  8. Continued routine activities
  9. Modeled grief behavior
  10. Opportunities to remember

ALH program evaluations indicate the following outcomes for children and teens participating in peer support group model:6

  1. Decreased sense of isolation
  2. Improved ability to focus in school
  3. Lessened resistance in addressing the death of their loved one
  4. Increased communication between surviving parent and child
  5. Decreased amount of clinginess to the parent and concern for the surviving parent (or guardian’s) health

One of the most alarming social trends over the past three decades is the dramatic increase in the number of children, teens and young adults suffering from unresolved childhood grief.
Children who experience unresolved grief from the death of a father are:

  • Five times more likely to complete suicide (U.S.D.H.H.S, Bureau of the Census.)
  • Nine times more likely to drop out of high school (National Principals Association)
  • Ten times more likely to engage in substance abuse (Rainbows, U.K)
  • Twenty times more likely to have behavioral disorders (Center for Disease Control)

1 Wass H. & Stillion (1988). Death in the lives of children and adolescents. In H. Wass, F.M. Berado & Neimeyer (Eds.), Dying: Facing the Facts (2nd Ed.) pp201-228. Washington, DC: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation
2 Mireault, G.C. & Bond, L.A. (1992) Parental Death in Childhood: Perceived vulnerability, and adult depression and anxiety. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 62(4), 517-524.
3 Oltjenbruns (2002) Handbook of Bereavement Research; Christ (2002) Healing Children’s Grief, New York: Oxford University Press
4 Schuurman, D. (2003) Never the Same: Coming to Terms with the Death of a Parent. New York: The Guilford Press
5 Worden, J.W. (1996) Children and Grief: When A Parent Dies. New York: The Guilford Press
6 Liebman-Rapp, A. (Peer Support Groups for Grieving Children and Adolescents: What Do They Accomplish?) Unpublished raw data