Childhood bereavement is all too common: an estimated 2 million Americans under the age of 18 have lost a parent, and the vast majority of children experience a significant loss by the time they complete high school. Unfortunately, young people suffering the loss of a loved one often slip under the radar, both in society at large and at school in particular. Schools play a critical role in a child’s grieving process, and while educators are eager to better support their grieving students, they remain under-trained and under-resourced. For the first time, ten leading professional organizations in the K-12 education space have come together to address the issue. Together, they make up the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, an initiative that empowers the school community to better support grieving students through a new portal – www.grievingstudents.org.
The Scope and Impact of Grief at School
* It is estimated that more than 2 million youth under 18 years old have experienced the death of a parent (Black, 2005, American School Board Journal).
* For school-age children, bereavement can manifest itself in academic, social, emotional, and behavioral issues. A majority of teachers report frequently witnessing a negative effect on academic performance and an increase in behavioral issues when a student loses a parent or guardian (AFT-NYL 2012 Educators’ Survey).
* Addressing grief issues as they arise is critical in easing the long-term behavioral and emotional impacts of bereavement. Up to 10 percent show sustained prolonged grief up to 3 years after the death of a parent (Melhem et al., 2011; Archives of General Psychiatry).
Schools an Ideal Place to Deliver Support to Grieving Students
* Grieving students spend a lot of time at school: many children spend more of their waking weekday hours at school than they do at home.
* Schools provide a safe and known setting for grieving students to cope with a loss; educators know their students well and are familiar with their day-to-day behavior.
* Schools offer a variety of trained staff: teachers, administrators, school counselors, district mental health specialists and others who can work together to offer dedicated support to students.
* Educators can play a unique role by virtue of their distance from the loss: children can ask questions and seek support without fear of burdening a close family member.
Educators Care Deeply About Their Grieving Students, Yet Grief Resources, Training Often Lacking
* Nearly seven in 10 teachers (69%) currently have at least one grieving student in their classroom(s) – yet only 7 percent have had any amount of bereavement training (AFT-NYL 2012 Educators’ Survey).
* Educators express deep concern about the issue: 92 percent of educators – including teachers, aides, counselors and staff – say childhood grief is a serious problem that deserves more attention from schools (AFT-NYL 201 2 Educators’ Survey).
* Yet 50 percent of classroom teachers gave their school a grade of C or lower for the job it does in helping them support their grieving students (AFT-NYL 2012 Survey).
* Optimally, supporting a grieving student involves coordination between a variety of trained educators and staff members at school – but collaboration and communication remains a challenge.
The Coalition to Support Grieving Students Offers Bereavement Resources to Educators, School Community
* The Coalition is a groundbreaking collaboration among leading professional organizations representing teachers, principals, school administrators, school support personnel, and other school professionals to empower school communities across America in the ongoing support of their grieving students.
* In conjunction with the New York Life Foundation and the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, the Coalition has created a dedicated web site –grievingstudents.org– with a range of multimedia resources tailored to school professionals.