Guidelines for Loss Support of Dying
Children & Their Families
BC Women and Childcare Program and Children's Hospice Guidelines
Grief begins when a family knows that their child’s
health is seriously threatened. The words ‘anticipatory grief’ and ‘bereavement’ categorize the time prior to and after the child’s
death. It is recognized that
grief/loss support is necessary in the continuum of care and after the child dies. Interventions are guided by the family’s process as it changes and
Guideline I – Family-Centered Care
Each family whose child faces imminent death or has died should receive individualized,
family-centered grief support.
is achieved by:
• respecting and honoring the meanings the family attaches to the concept of family
• respecting and honoring the meanings the family attaches to birth
• identifying the
family’s needs, hopes and fears, their expectations and their coping skills
• applying knowledge of the physical, psychological, social, educational
and spiritual development of childhood, as required
• recognizing the unique personal, religious
and spiritual values and beliefs of the family.
Guideline II –
Support of Grief Before the Death of the Child
and the dying child can experience profound loss and stress during the child's
dying process. Grief in siblings and the dying child presents itself in countless ways depending on age, family dynamics and coping skills, stage of growth and development, past experience with death, and the nature and context of the child's illness path and death.
Supporting the grief of the child, parents, siblings and other family members is accomplished by:
- creating an environment in which the
child and family feels it is safe to express, or not express, feelings that are often difficult to understand
and not easily shared
- in accordance with the
child and family’s wishes and/or choices, openly acknowledging and discussing the child's imminent or actual
- helping families to maintain a sense
of control and to utilize effective coping strategies by meeting their information needs on all aspects of death
- actively supporting families in discussing death and dying with the family’s
- helping families plan funeral services, burials &/or other culturally appropriate
- referring families to appropriate community agencies and resources that provide loss
support to parents, siblings, and members of the child's extended family and circle of friends
opportunities for families to experience quality of life while the child is dying (school attendance, family outings)
Guideline III – Access to Support
Families who experience the death of a child should have information and available resources
to support their losses.
Access means that:
- parents have access to information about bereavement services in their own community
required, a communication system is in place to facilitate a continuous flow of information among all members of the interdisciplinary
team and the family from the time when they know something is wrong with the health of their child through to bereavement
- families have access to specialized bereavement services
such as trauma support, relationship counselling, spiritual and/or cultural issues
in their own language, etc.
is an opportunity to meet with the care team to clarify/summarize events surrounding the
child’s death and details of bereavement follow-up. This is documented in the health record. For example, the chart
should record the name of the person a family is to contact for the results of an autopsy on their child’s body and
information about other test results.
Guideline IV – Interdisciplinary Model of Care
family who faces the potential or actual death of a child will be supported by an
interdisciplinary team. Collaborative decision-making and optimal functioning will be
facilitated by ethical, open, honest communication among the child, parents,
and other members of the child's community.
The interdisciplinary team will achieve this by:
- on-going consultation with the family to develop, implement, evaluate and document
a plan of grief support
- ensuring consensus about
the overall goals of care and the desirability of specific interventions as the child is dying and/or has died. This may include
- upholding principles of program by
maintaining the family's right to confidentiality and privacy
- providing ongoing educational, spiritual, psychological and emotional support appropriate to the needs and circumstances
of the family and other members of the child’s community such as friends, school, community service providers,
- supporting one another by creating
a milieu in which each person's own spiritual and religious beliefs and insights related to grief and loss are respected
- assisting members of the team, including the family, to acknowledge their
own limitations and grief
If you or someone you
know has had a child die, from any cause or at any age, please look into the wonderful organization called Compassionate
Friends www.compassionatefriends.org (World wide organization dedicated to families who have lost a child). 600
chapters in 50 states. For friends and family who wish to support a grieving family as well. Web site in english and
spanish. Find local chapter locations.
When a Baby or Young Child Dies:
Planning a funeral is terribly difficult and is
likely one of the first decisions you will have to make as a bereaved parent. You may have been to funerals in your life,
but you have probably never had to plan one, so you may be unfamiliar with how it works. We’ve listed some key steps
to give you an idea of what to expect.
will be asked by the hospital which funeral home you’d like to use.
- The funeral
will usually take place relatively soon after your child dies, usually within a week.
will be asked to bring an outfit of your child’s to the funeral home, and any other personal affects you would like
in the casket.
- Most of the funeral planning will be in person.
- The funeral home will ask if you want to bury or cremate your child. If you decide to bury, they will ask what cemetery
you would like to use. If you cremate, they will ask what urn you would like to order. Either way, they will ask you to choose
a casket. These options are usually shown to you in person or in a catalog.
- You will be
asked for a description of your child’s life to post on the funeral home’s website and/or in a newspaper announcement.
- You will have to decide if you want an open casket, a wake, and the times for the wake and funeral.
- You will need to decide the type of service you want. If religious, what church and who will preside.
If not religious, the funeral home will probably offer a secular service in their building. They will ask you to choose a
chaplain or someone else to officiate.
- The priest or person officiating the service will
have a conversation with you about your child’s life and will ask you to decide if there will be a eulogy, what songs
you would like, if there will be any readings, and who will do those things.
- You will
be asked if there is anywhere you would like to request donations from in lieu of flowers. You may consider an organization
that meant a lot to your child, an organization that may have helped during the medical process (e.g., the Ronald McDonald House Charities) or if you wish to help support parents of child loss, Just Enduring would greatly appreciate the consideration as well.
- You will need to choose
a prayer or funeral card, which will require a photo and a prayer, poem or another saying on the back.
- You will need to decide who to invite to the funeral. This is a great task to delegate to a close friend or family
- You may also want to let one person at work know to pass the information along
to your co-workers.
- You will need to decide if you will be having some sort of luncheon
after the ceremony and plan the details. Again, this is a great time for a loved one to assist you.
- After the funeral, the funeral home will obtain the death certificates for you.
you have your child cremated, it may take a few weeks to receive their ashes.
- If you choose
a burial plot, the headstone will take some time to complete before it can be placed on the gravesite.