Helping children to face family bereavement

Helping children to face family bereavement

Cambridgeshire charity STARS recognised a gap in local services for children faced with an imminent bereavement of a parent, or other close family member.
Child in therapy

Although there is some limited support for children following the death of a member of the family, the Cambridgeshire charity STARS recognised a gap in local services for children faced with an imminent bereavement of a parent, or other close family member. When a terminal illness is diagnosed, children are often at a loss to cope with feelings of grief, or anger, as they are too young to have effective coping mechanisms. At these intensely stressful times, some children find they actually have little help or support from family or friends, who may also be struggling to cope. To help meet this essential need, in 2018 the Evelyn Trust has funded one year of pre-bereavement counselling, plus additional counselling after bereavement, for up to 30 local children and young people. 

“We have a team of trained counsellors who work with the children, usually over six sessions, enabling them to share their thoughts and feelings and helping them to realise that these are normal for someone who is grieving. Following the loss of a loved one, we can also help them create their own memories of that person. We listen and encourage young people to express their painful emotions and to create their memories through creative play and craft work, helping young clients to move on with their lives. A wide range of therapies are involved, depending on the preferences of the child. These can include making scrapbooks, photo frames, memory boxes or sand jars; using clay or sand; painting pictures and stones; making timelines; and reading books and stories. Expressing difficult emotions can be encouraged by identifying and colouring in different expressions; making ‘feelings biscuits’, or using toys and puppets to act out feelings,” explains Michelle Parr, one of the counselling team at STARS Children’s Bereavement Support Service.

“Many of our clients come from complex and challenging family backgrounds. For example, of the pre-bereavement cases so far this year, one 8 year-old child has a mother with locked-in syndrome following a brain haemorrhage. Another young child lives with her grandmother who is her main carer and is dying. In this case, we’re also supporting another close family member who has a learning disability.”

Children come to the STARS counselling service often from referrals from social services, or pastoral teams in local schools, although they can also self-refer. STARS works mainly with 5 to 19 year olds, but older young people are sometimes supported where there is a particular need.

‘Distance travelled’ forms, as recommended for use by social care services are completed for children on completion of their counselling sessions and the progress they make is identified at assessments, mid-term reviews and at final sessions. 

“Bereavement services for adults are well-established, but there’s little dedicated, specialist professional help for children and young people. We’re offering high quality support at a critical moment in children’s lives, helping them to avoid the very negative impacts of stress and depression on their lives in the longer term,” adds Michelle.

To find out more about the important service provided by the STARS Children’s Bereavement Support Service in Cambridgeshire, visit


Subscribe to our mailing list

View previous newsletters