Childhood Bereavement – Winston’s Wish

Hi everyone, this week I am chatting to Paul Moore and Di Stubbs, from Winston’s Wish. Winston’s Wish is a childhood bereavement charity and speaking with them has really opened my eyes to the amount of kids that are facing these situations every day. I needed a hug after recording this.

Paul and Di talk about how Winston’s Wish was setup, the way that the charity has adapted over the years and the ways that they are able to support children in the present day.

The 3 key takeaways:

  1. 111 children are bereaved of a loved one, everyday in the UK.
  2. The importance of helping children to process their emotions and reacting to their specific needs, which can be greatly affected by their age.
  3. A case study of the impact that a parent’s terminal illness, can have on a child.

Next week I will be chatting with Alan Knowles, from Cura Financial Services and Chair of the PDG, about an income protection masterclass.

Remember, if you are listening to this as part of your work, you can claim a CPD certificate here on the website.

Kathryn:       Hi everyone, today I have Paul Moore and Di Stubbs with me from Winston’s Wish.  Hi!

Di:               Good morning Kathryn.

Kathryn:       Good morning.  They’re joining me to talk about childhood bereavement and how important it is to have effective support in place when a child loses a loved one.  Their services are provided by some insurers to help families of the policyholder should the worst happen and we’re going to talk about how it all works.  This is the Practical Protection podcast.  So, Paul, Di – how are you both doing?  How is lockdown treating you?

Paul:           Alright I think.  The second one feels a little bit harder I think to me but yeah, we’re getting there.  Christmas is on its way thankfully.

Di:               And I think one of the stranger things is because we were set up to be able to answer calls remotely just at the right time, it’s felt quite a lot like normal because we’ve both kept working.

Kathryn:       Absolutely and I think, you know, we’re like telephone based so for us going remote wasn’t actually a huge thing and all of our team had sort of like laptops to work from home anyway to be able to do most of – but it’s just the fact that we can’t be together, you know, it is strange though, you’re right Paul, it seems a little bit tougher this time which is really bizarre ‘cos my children are allowed to be in school this time so in all fairness I actually have absolutely nothing to complain about.  You know, everything –

Paul:           Yeah, I don’t know whether it’s the dark nights or the winter cold chill, there’s just something about it this time, it feels a little bit more intense.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Paul:           Even though it’s actually less intense than the first time around.

Kathryn:       Yeah.  Maybe it’s all like the whole not knowing as well, it’s like, “Oh it’s happening again,” you know, kind of thing.  Yeah.

Paul:           Yeah.

Di:               I have such respect for people who were doing home schooling as well as doing working – as well as doing – coping with not going outside.  I mean, such respect.  Yeah.

Kathryn:       It was tough.  I’ll just go – I’ll sort of like – you can hear me sort of like giggle a little bit in the background ‘cos I’m like hysterical inside.  I’m like, “It’s over, don’t worry about –”

Paul:           Nervous laughter!

Kathryn:       Nervous laughter, absolutely.  So, we have a truth or lie feature on the podcast and it’s your two jobs to figure out who was lying last time.  So on the truth or lie last time around, Alison Esson from AIG said that she puts up her Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and I said that I put mine up two weeks before Christmas.  So who do you think was telling the truth and who was lying?

Di:               I think it was Alison telling the truth because that’s what I do.  So I’m going with Alison.

Kathryn:       And Paul, who were you going for?

Paul:           I was going with Alison as well actually, we’ll stick together on this one and say Alison was telling the truth.

Kathryn:       She is telling the truth!  Absolutely!  I was so shocked when she said it.  My face was just like, “What?  Christmas Eve?” I’m like, “1st December, they’ve got to be up 1st December for me.”

Paul:           Do they come down on Boxing Day as well, that’s the question?

Kathryn:       Ooh, that is a question.  You see it’s tradition for us that we can’t ‘cos my sister’s birthday is Boxing Day so she’s just like, “If you’re going to have all the lights up, they’re staying up for my birthday.  We’re having them.”  It’s going to be celebrating a good while.

Di:               Now, you see I wonder if Alison was brought up on the same book I was brough up as a child, probably not because I’m incredibly old but there was a book which had all of the Christmas traditions and in that these perfect little children went out with their parents and cut down the tree on Christmas Eve and brought it in on Christmas Eve and decorated it on Christmas Eve and then they all sat around it having all of the Christmas stories about, you know, Father Christmas and robins and, you know, all of this stuff and then didn’t take it down until 12th night for the true 12 days of Christmas.  So I think my family believed that – not believed it in a religious sense, believed it in a traditional sense.  So my poor daughter’s been, you know, affected with that as well.

Kathryn:       Has she kept up the tradition?

Di:               She tries to sneak lights up earlier.

Kathryn:       My Mum is like two weeks before Christmas and ours are like 1st December.  Has to be 1st – I suppose the thing is as well, if you do wait – the longer you wait possibly even more special it seems?  It’s not – it doesn’t become like the normal thing in the house?

Di:               Exactly, yeah and we have fairy lights up all the time anyway so there’s always pretty lights, you know.

Kathryn:       Very nice, very nice.  So you guys, I know that you do some absolutely incredible work and I don’t have like first-hand experience but people close to me I know have experienced the support that you guys are able to give and it was absolutely phenomenal for them.  Can you start off and just tell us about Winston’s Wish.  For people who don’t know, how did it start, what’s happening now and what it is that you do?

Paul:           Yeah of course.  So Winston’s Wish was the UK’s first children’s bereavement charity, so we’ve been around since 1992 when our founded Julie Stokes, who was a palliative care nurse at the time, received a Winston Churchill Fellowship to look at children’s bereavement services in the States and Canada.  So she returned to the UK and set up Winston’s Wish, hence the name, and we were founded really on the belief that if you brought grieving children together to share their experiences, that the effects would be truly transformative.  And the same remains true today however, since our early days or running camps for grieving children in Gloucestershire, we’ve now grown to provide a truly national service.  So we now provide specialist support right across the country from our freephone national helpline which provides immediate advice and reassurance primarily aimed at parents, family members and professionals supporting a child through to in-depth therapeutic support for the children themselves, so one-to-one sessions delivered either remotely through whichever technology is most appropriate or in-person where we feel that would really benefit the child in the long run.

Kathryn:       That sounds – I didn’t realise that you do like specific camps.  I mean, I imagine that’s been really hard this year as well to sort of – is that something that still happens, the camps, or has it had to all be changed?

Paul:           Not so much, no.  So that was really how we started, those were our early days so obviously with limited resource back in the day we used to try and bring children together for a really intensive course during a camp but now because we’re able to provide the one-to-one support we tend not to do as many camps.  We do tend – we have done residentials in kind of the last few years which obviously have had to come to a stop this year but there’s not so much a focus throughout the year on the actual camps themselves.

Kathryn:       Okay.  I know there’s quite a bit as well about – it’s not just the family is it as well?  So it can be – so I was reading something about how it can be teachers as well so it’s all about whatever is needed for that child and sort of like seeing every single aspect of who could be there to help.  Is that right?

Di:               It’s absolutely that.  It’s about – I mean through – people would usually contact us first through the helpline and that is for anybody who is caring for a bereaved child so that could be parent, grandparent, foster carer, teacher, social worker, palliative care team, you know, whatever.  So anybody can ring us to get sort of guidance on how to best support that child in what’s happening for them and I think the thing that Paul was sort of saying was that we’re now able to offer that support, you know, remotely admittedly, but to so many more people than we were able to do.  So I don’t think we will ever not recognise that meeting other children who’ve been bereaved is really important but sometimes it comes down to how many can you help and it’s better to help hundreds than –

Kathryn:       Yes.

Di:               A few – so yeah.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, no that makes perfect sense.  I think that a lot of this is being able to sort of guess some of the things that a child may experience when they face a bereavement but I’m sure that, you know, as I say, I can guess a few things but I’m sure I would miss a lot of essential parts as well, you know, because unless you’re faced with that, I don’t think you can necessarily figure out everything that somebody would be facing.  Can you let us know a bit more about how bereavement can affect a child and how that in a sense can affect and shape their future please?

Di:               Well I guess one of the things, you know, it sounds like such a fundamental question but one of the questions is, how old is the child and also what other things have already gone on for them, you know, before this happened?  So for example, a little, you know, we develop our understanding about death and dying so if you’re bereaved before you really understand what this means and what the language means, it’s really difficult.  You just assume that somebody has left or abandoned you or just, you know, somehow magically just walked out of your life forever and that is much more difficult than if you’re a teenager who understands completely what’s happened but also has that adult under­standing of what impact this is going to have on you for, you know, for the future occasions.  So it’s not so much as a teenager losing somebody now, it’s about also losing them from your future.  So age is really important.  It’s also important who the person was because it can be, you know, somebody that was a more distant relative or somebody who was, you know, an essential daily part of your life, you know, in your major, you know, a person that you loved the very, very most or it could be you’re terribly annoying big brother or your absolutely adorable baby sister, you know, it’s who that person is also affects the child.

And also whatever else is happening, you know, if somebody else is, you know, ill, you know, if Granny is also ill as well as Dad has died and the dog doesn’t look well, you know, and somebody’s lost their job and, you know, all of this stuff – so there are all sorts of factors that affect an individual child’s sort of experience of bereavement.  And depending on the sort of help and support they get, that can indeed go on to have, you know, effects for their future.  I guess that’s, you know, the point of Winston’s Wish and the point of other bereavement services for children and young people, is to try and make sure that the effect on their future is – and I say minimised I mean you will always take your grief with you and your future will be altered but that you still have a future full of hope and possibilities that you would have had anyway.  You know, you’ve just had this extra experience that’s deepened maybe, you know, your heart.

Kathryn:       I think it’s really interesting when you’re saying about like the differences in the ages as well, so I’ve got three boys, nine, six and three so a really good –

Di:               Oh yes.

Kathryn:       Spread of ages there.

Di:               Yes.

Kathryn:       And sort of like in the first lockdown we did lose sort of – so my husband’s auntie so yeah, their great-auntie who – the eldest – they’d all met – I think the oldest two had met but not enough to remember her so, you know, they wouldn’t have been able to say, “Oh the person who looked like this,” it would have been such a long time ago and it wasn’t someone that sort of like regularly kind of came up in conversations and but then this time we’ve also lost one of their great-uncles in this lockdown and again somebody, you know, that’s not close to them but you can – I can see a big difference.  Obviously my three-year old, no concept whatsoever.  He’s just running around and quite happy.  He just, you know, you could say it to him and he doesn’t understand in the slightest.

My six-year old kind of understands – he can sort of like listen and he can understand but it kind of just goes over his head at the same time because I think he’s possibly a little bit like, well, you know, because when you see them watching TV shows and different things like that and somebody passes in it, it’s kind of like that thing of us saying to them, “Well, that’s a story so that actual person hasn’t passed but this is what –”  You know, and so I think he’s kind of in that stage of being confused but then with my eldest you can see that there’s just that level of comprehension coming in now and he just gets a little bit – he’s fine, you know, ‘cos as I say it’s not somebody who’s incredibly – that he’s been incredibly close to but you just see that there’s maybe about – sort of like half a minute or so, a minute that he just kind of – just goes quiet for a minute and you can just tell he’s thinking and he’s obviously thinking about all the different aspects of it and then he’s okay.  But I think it’s also a bit of fascination I think possibly at that age as well, to it, and possibly just a bit of guilt about being fascinated by it possibly.

Di:               Absolutely.  I mean, and well I think that you’ve – your family perfectly embodies those sort of stages that we go through as children in understanding and so to begin with, you know, the sort of way we understand, if you don’t mind me going off down a diversion is –

Kathryn:       Go for it.

Di:               You know, “The hamster isn’t moving, can I make the hamster move again?”  “Oh the hamster is this thing called dead, we’ve got a new hamster.”  “Oh Grandpa is this thing called dead.  Will he still pick me up from football?”  “Oh Grandpa is this thing called dead and he won’t pick me up from football again.”  That old people die – “If old people die that means that Granny will also die.”  “Oh, all people die, that means that Mummy and Daddy and Mr Sharples or whatever will die.”  “Oh hang on, all people die, I will die.”

Kathryn:       Yes.

Di:               “I can kill myself.”  And that usually takes us up until about nine or 10, you know, and by then we’ve got pretty much – depending on, you know, our learning difficulties or, you know, neuro­typicalness or whatever, we’ve usually got an understanding of that and so for a child who is bereaved at three, they sort of understand it again at five and again at seven and again at 10, you know, so it’s tough for a kid who is bereaved of somebody really close and important to them at a very young age because they sort of re-understand it over and over again.

Kathryn:       I suppose as well there’s the whole – one of my son’s friends did have a father who passed away when he was quite young and I think it does come into that thing – it’s all the things isn’t it?  It’s parents’ evenings, it’s coming for the Christmas plays, it’s, you know, the sports days, everything.  There’s that subtle reminder in a sense that there’s something different happening and it is, you know, kind of like probably a little bit of a bereavement each time, you know, ‘cos you are having to revisit it which I think is incredibly hard.  So it’s a lot to face, it’s a lot to face as an adult let alone as a child.

Di:               And as an adult – well as a teenager and as an adult I think that we are – as I was saying – even more aware of how that person will also be missing in our future and that is one of the things which makes it hard for adults to be bereaved, is that we’ve got all of those memories of that person, all of our understanding of how important they are to us now at this moment in time and how much we’re going to miss them in the future.  We also have a perspective which goes, “How terribly sad for them to miss out on all of this stuff in the future.”

Kathryn:       Yes.

Di:               Whereas for children, it’s much more immediate.  “I need my Mum to hold me now and she can’t,” and that’s not bearable.

Kathryn:       I think something that’s sort of like just triggered in my mind actually as we’ve been chatting as well is that when I was nine, a classmate of mine unfortunately died in a very, very freak accident and that was incredibly hard, you know, because, you know, even though it was a friend – he wasn’t like a best friend or whatever but he was, you know, it was such a shock because it was like he was there, one day he wasn’t there and he obviously then had this massive funeral where everybody attended and that’s really stuck with me because obviously in the nature that he had passed away, that’s led me to be very paranoid about certain activities with my children so I’m – just obviously I won’t go into it too much and that because it’s obviously – anonymity and things like that but it really, really sort of like – and then obviously my kids now kick off and they’ll say, “Why don’t you like us having this or doing this?”  And I’ll just have to say – my eldest knows and my middle child possibly knows a little bit because again I want to protect him from it but it’s just, you know, when they’re getting frustrated at you because they’re just like, “Well I want to do this,” and you’re just like, “Well no, you’re just not doing it,” and it’s just trying to sort of – it does – it really, really stays with you.  I mean, what –

Paul:           The other part of that kind of conversation around why we do what we do is not just in the immediate term but also as a preventative tool.  So I think we’re always conscious that actually for children who haven’t received that support, that there are long-term impacts that can – not necessarily always be prevented but can be minimised or we can do our best to try and help that child to overcome that so they don’t need to go through that situation.  So looking at the long-term impacts on their mental health, their employment, you know, their education, their failing to gain any sort of qualifications.  These are all things that are linked to children who have been bereaved and we can see that from the research that has been produced and also thinking about, you know, even the more stark side of things looking at children who’ve ended up in the corrective system, just because of that, you know, you can’t necessarily pinpoint that moment in their life and say, “Well they’ve ended up in prison because of this thing that’s happened to them,” but actually there is that trend that you can go back and see that there was that key thing that happened in their childhood and there is a natural trend that follows on.

I think that’s something we’re conscious of that this isn’t just about providing an emotive support or providing something that is – I think people often look at our work and think it’s a real kind of cushty, lovely thing to be able to provide because that child is sad which is absolutely one part of what we do but there is also that part of actually – there’s a serious nature to what we do in terms of preventing the long-term impacts.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Paul:           Yeah.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I mean, what thing that – so sort of like as an example, you know, so like I said if I’m an insurance policyholder and something’s happened and I’m worried, you know, anybody as you say, anybody can call – ring the helpline but what would – what is the process in a sense?  What happens – I appreciate this may be different between, you know, sort of a young child and somebody who’s older but what would be the general steps that would happen when somebody contacts you?  What’s that process and what happens?

Di:               Well I guess the first thing is that initial call so people can also contact us of course by email.  We also have instant messenger.  Once in a while we actually still get a letter would you believe but mainly the great majority of our calls come through our helpline as the first point of call and I guess that phone call – that initial phone call can be a few minutes, can go, you know, up to 45 minutes or even longer and I guess what we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to understand the situation, we’re trying to hear about the children concerned, we’re trying to understand some of those things I was, you know, exploring to begin with, you know, what else is going on at the moment with the children?  Was this a sudden death?  Was this an expected death, you know, what sort of support have they got around?  And we’ll give some initial guidance on ways of talking about death, talking about this particular death, we’ll give some ideas of support for children because sometimes the call will come in from somebody who’s just experienced a bereavement, or the children have, or it might have been 10 years ago and now the effect is coming through.  So depending on those circumstances, we might be exploring slightly different things.

Sometimes that call is all that’s needed.  Sometimes we’ll arrange a second call because, you know, to take a recent example, somebody who called us because a parent had died – the other parent had literally died and they were on their way to the school to pick up the children and, “How do I explain, you know, what has happened?”  And they couldn’t then – they also wanted to know about, “How do I talk about the funeral?  Do I keep them off school?  Do I –” whatever – and under those circumstances, we would be arranging a call back ourselves so that we would speak to them another, you know, once or twice but after a period of time after a bereavement, we don’t tend to rush in too quickly because there’s so much chaos in those first early days and weeks but we would be able to actually then pass them across to our wonderful team of people who can do a little bit more in-depth work, either working with a parent or a carer to support the children, you know, giving them ideas and tools and opportunities and guidance or working directly with the children if they are a little bit older and can handle the at-a-distance support.

Kathryn:       Yeah.  I think that was probably going to be sort of like one of my next questions in a sense – is that – because I know that with some support services, especially when it comes to maybe things like counselling or like different things that can be on offer, that there is kind of like an age limit in a sense of you must be at least 16 or 18 to be able to actually receive that group support directly.  So I was going to say – that was one of my next things to say, is it possible?  I mean, I appreciate with young children that’s not going to be something that’s going to be easy at all to do remotely but obviously it’s good to know that there are instances where you are able to obviously step in and do that.  Am I right in thinking that counselling is something that would be maybe potentially on offer or is that sort of like more like a referral-type process to the NHS or something like that?  I just – I’m not sure how it works.

Di:               Well I guess for the part of our service which is aimed at supporting parents and carers, our age range would go from nought to, you know, 20, 25 or whatever because that’s about giving them the support or if their little people are nought and two and five, we could still offer support to the parents to support the children.  For older children they need, you know, obviously they need the support of somebody around while we are working with them because it can be emotional or challenging or, you know, tough, you know, and so we sort of have a bit of a wobbly line on that about when those children are old enough, you know, there’s not like, you know, “Ah, you’re eight, we can now do it.”  You know, some seven-year olds would respond tremendously to that, some 10-year olds wouldn’t.  So it’s a bit of a wobbly line depending on our sort of initial contact.  But we are able to offer support now either through either prong of our service up to 25-year olds.

Kathryn:       I believe – I know most people probably who are listening will have heard Lindsay’s story when she came on a few months ago talking about losing her Mum earlier this year and I know that she obviously accessed your service and they were absolutely brilliant and she’s really sort of like – beforehand she was so excited that I’m doing this, you know, sort of like being able to sort of like showcase what you guys are doing but I believe as well there’s things like, you know, some sort of like books as well that are available to sort of help sort of like really explain it to the children.  But again, I think it’s that thing – I was looking on the website as well, there’s like different ages I think of the books isn’t there, just to try and again, just make it something that is really understandable to the child.

Di:               Yep, we have specialist publications that we produce ourselves so we have a book about supporting children who are under five, a book for the primary age range, a book for the secondary age range and a book for children who maybe have special educational needs and understanding and we have a couple of workbooks that go along with that which have got some activities in that for children.  But also through the helpline we can – or through our email service, we can also recommend books which are sort of commercially available that help fill in the picture for children so we can make specific recommendations for specific families and say, “Ah, one that might help here is, you know, we can’t provide that ourselves but this is, you know, a great one to talk about this particular death of this particular person.”

Kathryn:       Okay.  I know, as I say, just looking at the website, there was a – I know there’s a shop and there were so many different things on there.  Like I say, there was the books, there was the memory boxes, there was quite a few different things and I think, you know, it’s one of those things where – I don’t know, I wonder if some people – sort of like I think everybody instinctively would want to do some kind of a memory box but then I wonder if some people would maybe be a little bit apprehensive because it could also be for them too emotional to be doing that and putting all those memories of a partner and the parent of their child, you know, that’s a lot actually to be faced with on top of everything else, you know, and I suppose a big question is, is how important is that for children and what’s kind of like the feedback that people give or potentially children give as they get older as to how important these services have been for them?

Di:               So picking up the memory box bit specifically, if I could just pick up that.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Di:               The thing about a memory box is it’s a tool for encouraging families and individuals to refresh their memories, to think about their memories, to revisit memories and things like that.  It’s nothing more, nothing less and it needn’t be a smart box with, you know, pictures on it, it can be an ordinary shoebox or it can be a drawer of a chest of drawers or something.  But for children it can be really helpful to have something concrete to base a memory around and that in turn helps you access maybe some of the other memories that are not so concrete and the sort of things that we would be encouraging and sometimes – I mean, what I should say is that a lot of our conversations are with people who are facing their own death, so it’s people who are preparing for dying so their pre-death conversations and sometimes you’ll find parents start off a memory box before they die, if they know that they are, you know, they have a terminal illness and that can be really helpful for children because then the parents can help label them and say, “This was a shell from that holiday we had, you know, when your Nan fell in the sea,” you know, or whatever and, “This is a ticket from that concert that you were really far too young for me to take you to but, you know, we had this amazing time.”  “These are some of the cards you sent me and some of the cards I sent you,” and then afterwards, you know, after somebody has died, if you’re creating a memory box at that time, you can put in things that the child really links to that person which can be something like a perfume or an aftershave that they wore or a scarf or a tie as well as those other things like, you know, stones and special teddies and things like that.  And what happens is you don’t have to look at it every day, you can keep it under your bed, you can keep it somewhere else but when you actually look at it, turning over the items helps you turn over the memories in your mind.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Di:               And it just – it’s a bit like, you know, saving a computer file, you know, you’re refreshing it, you’re keeping the new version and you’re keeping some of those memories more vividly than you might do otherwise.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, I – that’s – with the baby keepsake boxes, I’ve got them for each of my children.  Every now and then I’ll look into them and it’s that thing of like, you know, the first outfit that they had and like the first lock of hair and it is just – immediately it’s obviously just a very positive thing when it’s that kind of a situation but I hadn’t even thought about using a keepsake box in the sense of somebody who is terminally ill in regards to doing that which I imagine is an incredibly – I’ve heard of things like, you know, writing the birthday cards every year up until a certain age or something but yeah, I’ve not heard of it in that way and I think that would be an incredibly emotional but powerful thing to do, especially as well if you’re able to include the child in it ‘cos then each time they see it they’ll – again it will evoke that extra memory of having done it.  Yes, that’s brilliant.

Di:               Yes, indeed.  Yes, parents who, you know, are able, you know, whether they are the person who is ill or the person who will survive, you know, prepare children, you know, for a parent’s death, quite extraordinary people, absolutely extraordinary but all ordinary people become extraordinary under those circumstances.

Kathryn:       Yes, well I think you have to don’t you?  There’s no choice, you have to just get – it’s that typical British thing isn’t it, you just have to get on with it, you have to step up and get through it and everything but it’s just making sure that we’re all emotionally and mentally intact as we’re getting through it which I think is the best thing there.  So I think you possibly have some case studies for us to maybe just have a little chat through, am I right?

Di:               When you were talking and thinking about stories, I mean – I guess – I mean we hear so many, we get about – well somewhere between 20, 25, 30 calls a day on the helpline –

Kathryn:       Oh wow.

Di:               So you can imagine how many – and those people are probably supporting on average about – on average two children, occasionally you’ll hit, you know, seven children in a family or a blended family of 10 children or a whole primary school class involved because, like you were suggesting, it was a classmate who died or something.  But – so you can imagine how many kids that we’re helping like 60, 70 children a day indirectly through this support and about half of our calls roughly are from – are about children who have had an expected death.  Doesn’t mean it’s expected in as far as the children are concerned but it was a death through illness, even if they were old enough to know what was happening, it’s always a surprise at the last minute.  Getting on for a quarter of our calls are about a death by suicide so that is actually growing to maybe be as much as a third of the calls that we have are about a death by suicide and then the rest of the calls are about deaths that happen suddenly, like an accident or through violence, you know, or road traffic collisions that sort of thing or a heart attack, you know, a sudden illness that sort of happens.

So I guess if we’re thinking of stories around that and some of the complications that can happen, one of the ones I was thinking about this morning and I’m changing details here, you know, because we’d only ever talk about anonymous cases, you know, for our confidentiality reasons.  But I was thinking about a call I had with a grandparent who had moved in with their own child when that child had a terminal diagnosis in order to look after the three children and their own child and had become sort of such a crucial part of that family and the family was a little three, stroke four-year old who was increasingly clingy of course because of the circumstances of, you know, having a parent who was increasingly unavailable because of their own illness so really was a shadow of the grandparent, a middle one who had just had a diagnosis and support package being put in place for autism –

Kathryn:       Right.

Di:               And an older one who was just being prepared to move up to secondary school.

Kathryn:       Oh wow.

Di:               And with the great support of the grandparent, they were able, you know, they were there, the parent died, they went to the funeral, they were supported and then the estranged other parent turned up and they disappeared off with the estranged other parent to live 300 miles away from the Gran in a different part of the country altogether.  Now that doesn’t mean that was a negative thing.  That might have been an extraordinary thing for the family but it meant for the little three-year old suddenly going away from the only two people that they were really familiar with – it meant that the statement process would have to start all over again for the middle child and the elder one would have to go through that whole change to secondary school without any peers or anybody else going along with them.

So I only think of that particular call because it brings up so many, you know, for me – it also brings up the difficulty for the Gran who was saying, “What do I do now I’m 300 miles away?  What can I do most helpfully?”  Then we were talking about the books and the memories and how you capture these memories and how you – how hopefully we could support the Dad to support the children as well and that’s the beauty of being able to offer this service nationally is that we can, you know, you can reach just as easily to the Dad as we could to the Gran who was, you know, physically living nearer.

Kathryn:       Yeah.  That case study is just incredible.  I’m not – I refuse to cry while the podcast is recording but that really just gets me.  Obviously just thinking of my three-year old and, you know, what, yeah, that just – I can’t think about it.  I can’t think about it.  Thank you for sharing that.  As you say, there’s so many different aspects to that, you know, it’s preparing, getting everything in place, maybe seeing like a bit of a glimmer of hope and everything suddenly turning completely upside down again. It’s incredible.

Di:               And, as I said, it wasn’t just saying that was necessarily a negative outcome, it was just how – it shows how children, when somebody important to them dies, they don’t just “lose” – one of those confusing words for children, but they don’t just lose that person.  They may lose a huge amount, so you may need to go to live with somebody else, your grandparents or your other parent or an auntie or something and that means you lose your familiar bedroom, your familiar bush that you have a den in in the garden, you know, the school, the teachers that you love, you know, the corner shop, the play­ground.  It’s – there’s a lot of what we call secondary losses that can come, you know, when somebody dies.

Kathryn:       I think that goes back to the thing I was saying earlier as well, saying that I can imagine, you know, I think a lot of us can guess in a sense what a child goes through but you don’t think about all that.  You don’t think about the fact that the, you know, everything – the friendships, the just being – the familiarity of, “Oh if I’m going to the shops, this is the route and I’ll be able to see my favourite tree,” and, you know, the different things like that.  There’s so many different aspects to it.

Paul:           The cat that sits on the wall on that walk that you always say hello to.

Kathryn:       Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.  Well I think obviously the work that you guys are doing is obviously absolutely essential and I think what’s, you know, sort of like a bit strange for me is the fact that it’s only probably in the last few years or so that I’ve been really – ‘cos of the industry that I work in, that I’ve become quite familiar with yourselves.  I just think it’s so important to get the message of what you guys can offer out there.  So I suppose Paul, what’s the best way for people to get hold of you guys?

Paul:           Well I think in general, obviously this is the Protection Podcast so I think it’s worth pointing out that our partnership with the protection industry is absolutely vital.  In fact, with our partnership with Swiss Life which launched our helpline back in 2001, so it’s really been integral to our growth and who we are and, you know, while we have you I think it’s an opportunity to talk about how we work with insurers and the fact that we do that in a number of ways.  Really that’s around building bespoke agree­ments that’s right for them and their customers.  Typically – what would that mean, would be looking at creating a unique phone number for that insurer so they can then promote that to their customers as part of their value-add benefits and at the point of claim.

So that means that when the customer calls we know who their insurer is and they’re made aware that their call is being answered thanks to the support of their insurer which I think is really important actually at reminding them that actually this – although it is, like you pointed out, it is a generally available service to the public, it’s that point of reminder of saying, “Actually this has been answered thanks to Cura or thanks to whoever it was that put you in contact with us.”  And at that point, you know, we already discuss that kind of pathway but a professional practitioner like Di would then speak with the customer to answer any immediate concerns or questions they might have and then refer them on for that ongoing support with our team through digital or remote services or in some cases face-to-face if they felt that was right depending on the situation.  And that support then typically follows a kind of program of at least six sessions over a period of six months and during those sessions they’ll focus on all sorts of things; developing relationships, the uniqueness of their family, the network of support that they have around them, exploring memories like we’ve already talked about and allowing the child to explore their own worries; those challenges that they might not have thought about and really just ways of coping alongside professionals who can help them kind of understand and guide them through those concerns.

And that’s what we do with the protection industry, you know, it’s about creating bespoke arrangements that work for them and for us but like you say, it’s – it is an accessible service for anyone who needs our help and the best way to get in touch with us is, as Di said earlier, through our helpline so anyone can call that during office hours on 08088 020021 or they can visit our website, so it’s winstonswish.org.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I think the thing that’s sticking in my mind at the moment is when you were saying Di, that you get about 20 to 25 calls a day and I’m getting a little bit shivery just thinking about it.  It’s just – it’s the amount of children who are clearly suffering bereavements.  I just – I’m going to go and use a calculator in a minute and try and figure that out and then I’m going to really upset myself for the rest of the day thinking about it but –

Di:               Let me tell you the figure because I think that’s really, really important to put it into context because I don’t think people realise how common it is for a child to lose a parent.  So specifically a parent, about – brace yourself Kathryn, about 111 children a day lose a parent.

Kathryn:       A day?

Di:               A day.  So that’s about 45 – 44 – 45,000 children a year.

Kathryn:       Oh gosh.

Di:               And if you actually – by the time children hit 16, that means that there’s a cohort of about 300,000 children who’ve lost a parent, specifically a parent and one way we try and make this real is that, you know there was a British firm on the top floors of one of the Twin Towers?  I think it was –

Kathryn:       I didn’t realise that actually.

Di:               Cantor – I think it was Cantor Fitzgerald, something like that.  And we estimate or it is estimated that about 69 children were bereaved in 9/11, the event that we call 9/11 but actually on 9/11 – on that same day, nearly double the number would have been bereaved of a parent as well and on 9/12 and yesterday and today.  You know, there are these everyday tragedies just because sometimes we bundle them up into a number but actually it’s a huge – it breaks down as about one in 25, 26 children so like a one in an average classroom will lose a parent and if you then add in the ones who have experienced the death of a sibling or a grandparent who was extremely close to them, you know, it’s – the number – it’s a very important issue that gets really overlooked.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, and I think, you know, again, just that it kind of encapsulates everything that’s been said as well, it’s just the fact of one, it’s making sure – just for the, you know, the right thing to do, how important your services are to help those children but then what you were saying as well, Paul, about how it can be linked so much to like correction facilities and different things like that as to how this could potentially, you know, it’s just incredible and I think, you know, I’m one of those people – I’m never really keen on statistics, I like stories, but those statistics are absolutely, you know, you can’t ignore just how important they are and how much they stand out.  I had no idea it was that common and you kind of think with all we know about how much, you know, there’s cancer about and everything else and there’s tragic accidents that can happen – even when you experience them sort of locally to you, you don’t necessarily think about all the things that are happening to them.

Paul:           It’s huge.  I think that one in 20 – I usually say it’s one in 29 but I’ll take Di’s figure of one in 25 in terms of that one in every classroom, you know, the work that we do with schools for example then really comes into its own because if you think if that teacher is in front of a classroom, that class is likely to change every year and they will be coming into contact with, you know, not just one child that year but actually potentially one child every year or multiple children every year and they’re spending the majority of their day with that person at the front of their classroom.  They’re relying on them for their emotional support and, you know, how does that person face that?  And so during the first lock­down, we launched a new online training system for teachers.

Kathryn:       Oh lovely.

Paul:           So that was free of charge to any teacher who needed it and it really just talked about the basics of childhood bereavement and how to support a child in that situation, things to think about in your classroom, really simple things – things like if you’re telling a story and that involves somebody who dies, actually just being mindful that there’s a child in your classroom who has faced that and making sure there’s support available for that child ahead of time and we were absolutely astounded that over 15,000 teachers downloaded that resource within the first lockdown because there was just this real wave of panic from teachers and schools saying, “You know, actually, we don’t know what we’re going to face once the schools reopen.  We don’t know how many kids are going to come back to our school and will have lost a parent, will have lost a grandparent, will have lost somebody close to them because of this horrific, you know, situation that we find ourselves in.”

And that really brought it to life for me to think about actually the work that we could do there was about educating teachers and we, you know, we’ll never know the impact that that had on the thousands of children that they were able to support thanks to that.  Because, you know, for everyone that reaches out to us to say thank you ‘cos they were able to support a child, there will be five others that don’t ever need to tell us that and that’s really important.

Kathryn:       Absolutely and that’s just reminded me actually saying all that – so going back to the situation when I was nine, I remember now the head teacher and all the teachers in the hall obviously having to sit the entire school down ‘cos it was a smallish school but, you know, still a couple of hundred kids at least and us all being sat down and being told the following morning as to what had happened.  I just remember the headteacher’s face now and how it just – his face just crumpled and, you know, the emotion and I think that was part of obviously for the kids as well what probably made it even more emotional for us as well because there was this big man who was the headteacher and, you know, he’d obviously – he’d lost it and understandably so and so did all the other teachers and just trying to figure out how they could all get – so I think that’s – yeah, incredible that, you know, teachers are obviously actively looking at doing that but that you’re able to provide that resource is just phenomenal.

We’re coming towards the end of the podcast now and it does feel a little bit strange to do the truth or lie feature after talking about such emotional and important things so I feel terrible for putting you on the spot like this now.

Di:               But we’re – but I think the key thing to say is exactly what Paul has said, you know, which is that we’re about hope.  It’s perfectly great – it’s great for kids to laugh and to have fun, you know, it’s about, you know, this is a huge and terribly sad thing but they’re still entitled to have their fun and, you know, it’s –

Kathryn:       They can’t feel guilty for enjoying life.

Di:               Exactly, exactly.  So you don’t have to feel guilty for talking about –

Kathryn:       I know – I’m not a child – we’ll do the trade then, the very good thing about hope then so all of us are being so hopeful over Christmas so we’re going to have our little truth or lie feature of our favourite thing at Christmas.  And I’ll kick off to say that my favourite thing is carol singers.  Who’d like to go next?  Paul?

Paul:           My favourite thing is actually the work Christmas party.

Di:               And my favourite thing is the smell and the taste of chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Kathryn:       Ah, very nice, very nice.  Well thank you Paul and Di for joining me, it’s been lovely having you both on and to be talking about this topic.

Paul:           Thank you for having us.

Di:               Thank you so much for the opportunity and the support.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, absolutely.  Next time I’m going to be speaking with Alan Knowles and we’re going to be doing an income protection masterclass.  If you’d like a reminder of the next episode, please drop me a message on social media or visit the website www.practical-protection.co.uk.  And please don’t forget that if you’re listening to this as part of your work, you can claim a CPD certificate on the website too.  Thank you both again.

Paul:           You’re welcome. Thank you.

Kathryn:       Bye.

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Childhood Bereavement - Winston's Wish

Hi everyone, this week I am chatting to Paul Moore and Di Stubbs, from Winston’s Wish. Winston’s Wish is a childhood bereavement charity and speaking with them has really opened my eyes to the amount of kids that are facing these situations every day. I needed a hug after recording this.

Paul and Di talk about how Winston’s Wish was setup, the way that the charity has adapted over the years and the ways that they are able to support children in the present day.

The 3 key takeaways:

  1. 111 children are bereaved of a loved one, everyday in the UK.
  2. The importance of helping children to process their emotions and reacting to their specific needs, which can be greatly affected by their age.
  3. A case study of the impact that a parent’s terminal illness, can have on a child.

Next week I will be chatting with Alan Knowles, from Cura Financial Services and Chair of the PDG, about an income protection masterclass.

Remember, if you are listening to this as part of your work, you can claim a CPD certificate here on the website.

Kathryn:       Hi everyone, today I have Paul Moore and Di Stubbs with me from Winston’s Wish.  Hi!

Di:               Good morning Kathryn.

Kathryn:       Good morning.  They’re joining me to talk about childhood bereavement and how important it is to have effective support in place when a child loses a loved one.  Their services are provided by some insurers to help families of the policyholder should the worst happen and we’re going to talk about how it all works.  This is the Practical Protection podcast.  So, Paul, Di – how are you both doing?  How is lockdown treating you?

Paul:           Alright I think.  The second one feels a little bit harder I think to me but yeah, we’re getting there.  Christmas is on its way thankfully.

Di:               And I think one of the stranger things is because we were set up to be able to answer calls remotely just at the right time, it’s felt quite a lot like normal because we’ve both kept working.

Kathryn:       Absolutely and I think, you know, we’re like telephone based so for us going remote wasn’t actually a huge thing and all of our team had sort of like laptops to work from home anyway to be able to do most of – but it’s just the fact that we can’t be together, you know, it is strange though, you’re right Paul, it seems a little bit tougher this time which is really bizarre ‘cos my children are allowed to be in school this time so in all fairness I actually have absolutely nothing to complain about.  You know, everything –

Paul:           Yeah, I don’t know whether it’s the dark nights or the winter cold chill, there’s just something about it this time, it feels a little bit more intense.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Paul:           Even though it’s actually less intense than the first time around.

Kathryn:       Yeah.  Maybe it’s all like the whole not knowing as well, it’s like, “Oh it’s happening again,” you know, kind of thing.  Yeah.

Paul:           Yeah.

Di:               I have such respect for people who were doing home schooling as well as doing working – as well as doing – coping with not going outside.  I mean, such respect.  Yeah.

Kathryn:       It was tough.  I’ll just go – I’ll sort of like – you can hear me sort of like giggle a little bit in the background ‘cos I’m like hysterical inside.  I’m like, “It’s over, don’t worry about –”

Paul:           Nervous laughter!

Kathryn:       Nervous laughter, absolutely.  So, we have a truth or lie feature on the podcast and it’s your two jobs to figure out who was lying last time.  So on the truth or lie last time around, Alison Esson from AIG said that she puts up her Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and I said that I put mine up two weeks before Christmas.  So who do you think was telling the truth and who was lying?

Di:               I think it was Alison telling the truth because that’s what I do.  So I’m going with Alison.

Kathryn:       And Paul, who were you going for?

Paul:           I was going with Alison as well actually, we’ll stick together on this one and say Alison was telling the truth.

Kathryn:       She is telling the truth!  Absolutely!  I was so shocked when she said it.  My face was just like, “What?  Christmas Eve?” I’m like, “1st December, they’ve got to be up 1st December for me.”

Paul:           Do they come down on Boxing Day as well, that’s the question?

Kathryn:       Ooh, that is a question.  You see it’s tradition for us that we can’t ‘cos my sister’s birthday is Boxing Day so she’s just like, “If you’re going to have all the lights up, they’re staying up for my birthday.  We’re having them.”  It’s going to be celebrating a good while.

Di:               Now, you see I wonder if Alison was brought up on the same book I was brough up as a child, probably not because I’m incredibly old but there was a book which had all of the Christmas traditions and in that these perfect little children went out with their parents and cut down the tree on Christmas Eve and brought it in on Christmas Eve and decorated it on Christmas Eve and then they all sat around it having all of the Christmas stories about, you know, Father Christmas and robins and, you know, all of this stuff and then didn’t take it down until 12th night for the true 12 days of Christmas.  So I think my family believed that – not believed it in a religious sense, believed it in a traditional sense.  So my poor daughter’s been, you know, affected with that as well.

Kathryn:       Has she kept up the tradition?

Di:               She tries to sneak lights up earlier.

Kathryn:       My Mum is like two weeks before Christmas and ours are like 1st December.  Has to be 1st – I suppose the thing is as well, if you do wait – the longer you wait possibly even more special it seems?  It’s not – it doesn’t become like the normal thing in the house?

Di:               Exactly, yeah and we have fairy lights up all the time anyway so there’s always pretty lights, you know.

Kathryn:       Very nice, very nice.  So you guys, I know that you do some absolutely incredible work and I don’t have like first-hand experience but people close to me I know have experienced the support that you guys are able to give and it was absolutely phenomenal for them.  Can you start off and just tell us about Winston’s Wish.  For people who don’t know, how did it start, what’s happening now and what it is that you do?

Paul:           Yeah of course.  So Winston’s Wish was the UK’s first children’s bereavement charity, so we’ve been around since 1992 when our founded Julie Stokes, who was a palliative care nurse at the time, received a Winston Churchill Fellowship to look at children’s bereavement services in the States and Canada.  So she returned to the UK and set up Winston’s Wish, hence the name, and we were founded really on the belief that if you brought grieving children together to share their experiences, that the effects would be truly transformative.  And the same remains true today however, since our early days or running camps for grieving children in Gloucestershire, we’ve now grown to provide a truly national service.  So we now provide specialist support right across the country from our freephone national helpline which provides immediate advice and reassurance primarily aimed at parents, family members and professionals supporting a child through to in-depth therapeutic support for the children themselves, so one-to-one sessions delivered either remotely through whichever technology is most appropriate or in-person where we feel that would really benefit the child in the long run.

Kathryn:       That sounds – I didn’t realise that you do like specific camps.  I mean, I imagine that’s been really hard this year as well to sort of – is that something that still happens, the camps, or has it had to all be changed?

Paul:           Not so much, no.  So that was really how we started, those were our early days so obviously with limited resource back in the day we used to try and bring children together for a really intensive course during a camp but now because we’re able to provide the one-to-one support we tend not to do as many camps.  We do tend – we have done residentials in kind of the last few years which obviously have had to come to a stop this year but there’s not so much a focus throughout the year on the actual camps themselves.

Kathryn:       Okay.  I know there’s quite a bit as well about – it’s not just the family is it as well?  So it can be – so I was reading something about how it can be teachers as well so it’s all about whatever is needed for that child and sort of like seeing every single aspect of who could be there to help.  Is that right?

Di:               It’s absolutely that.  It’s about – I mean through – people would usually contact us first through the helpline and that is for anybody who is caring for a bereaved child so that could be parent, grandparent, foster carer, teacher, social worker, palliative care team, you know, whatever.  So anybody can ring us to get sort of guidance on how to best support that child in what’s happening for them and I think the thing that Paul was sort of saying was that we’re now able to offer that support, you know, remotely admittedly, but to so many more people than we were able to do.  So I don’t think we will ever not recognise that meeting other children who’ve been bereaved is really important but sometimes it comes down to how many can you help and it’s better to help hundreds than –

Kathryn:       Yes.

Di:               A few – so yeah.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, no that makes perfect sense.  I think that a lot of this is being able to sort of guess some of the things that a child may experience when they face a bereavement but I’m sure that, you know, as I say, I can guess a few things but I’m sure I would miss a lot of essential parts as well, you know, because unless you’re faced with that, I don’t think you can necessarily figure out everything that somebody would be facing.  Can you let us know a bit more about how bereavement can affect a child and how that in a sense can affect and shape their future please?

Di:               Well I guess one of the things, you know, it sounds like such a fundamental question but one of the questions is, how old is the child and also what other things have already gone on for them, you know, before this happened?  So for example, a little, you know, we develop our understanding about death and dying so if you’re bereaved before you really understand what this means and what the language means, it’s really difficult.  You just assume that somebody has left or abandoned you or just, you know, somehow magically just walked out of your life forever and that is much more difficult than if you’re a teenager who understands completely what’s happened but also has that adult under­standing of what impact this is going to have on you for, you know, for the future occasions.  So it’s not so much as a teenager losing somebody now, it’s about also losing them from your future.  So age is really important.  It’s also important who the person was because it can be, you know, somebody that was a more distant relative or somebody who was, you know, an essential daily part of your life, you know, in your major, you know, a person that you loved the very, very most or it could be you’re terribly annoying big brother or your absolutely adorable baby sister, you know, it’s who that person is also affects the child.

And also whatever else is happening, you know, if somebody else is, you know, ill, you know, if Granny is also ill as well as Dad has died and the dog doesn’t look well, you know, and somebody’s lost their job and, you know, all of this stuff – so there are all sorts of factors that affect an individual child’s sort of experience of bereavement.  And depending on the sort of help and support they get, that can indeed go on to have, you know, effects for their future.  I guess that’s, you know, the point of Winston’s Wish and the point of other bereavement services for children and young people, is to try and make sure that the effect on their future is – and I say minimised I mean you will always take your grief with you and your future will be altered but that you still have a future full of hope and possibilities that you would have had anyway.  You know, you’ve just had this extra experience that’s deepened maybe, you know, your heart.

Kathryn:       I think it’s really interesting when you’re saying about like the differences in the ages as well, so I’ve got three boys, nine, six and three so a really good –

Di:               Oh yes.

Kathryn:       Spread of ages there.

Di:               Yes.

Kathryn:       And sort of like in the first lockdown we did lose sort of – so my husband’s auntie so yeah, their great-auntie who – the eldest – they’d all met – I think the oldest two had met but not enough to remember her so, you know, they wouldn’t have been able to say, “Oh the person who looked like this,” it would have been such a long time ago and it wasn’t someone that sort of like regularly kind of came up in conversations and but then this time we’ve also lost one of their great-uncles in this lockdown and again somebody, you know, that’s not close to them but you can – I can see a big difference.  Obviously my three-year old, no concept whatsoever.  He’s just running around and quite happy.  He just, you know, you could say it to him and he doesn’t understand in the slightest.

My six-year old kind of understands – he can sort of like listen and he can understand but it kind of just goes over his head at the same time because I think he’s possibly a little bit like, well, you know, because when you see them watching TV shows and different things like that and somebody passes in it, it’s kind of like that thing of us saying to them, “Well, that’s a story so that actual person hasn’t passed but this is what –”  You know, and so I think he’s kind of in that stage of being confused but then with my eldest you can see that there’s just that level of comprehension coming in now and he just gets a little bit – he’s fine, you know, ‘cos as I say it’s not somebody who’s incredibly – that he’s been incredibly close to but you just see that there’s maybe about – sort of like half a minute or so, a minute that he just kind of – just goes quiet for a minute and you can just tell he’s thinking and he’s obviously thinking about all the different aspects of it and then he’s okay.  But I think it’s also a bit of fascination I think possibly at that age as well, to it, and possibly just a bit of guilt about being fascinated by it possibly.

Di:               Absolutely.  I mean, and well I think that you’ve – your family perfectly embodies those sort of stages that we go through as children in understanding and so to begin with, you know, the sort of way we understand, if you don’t mind me going off down a diversion is –

Kathryn:       Go for it.

Di:               You know, “The hamster isn’t moving, can I make the hamster move again?”  “Oh the hamster is this thing called dead, we’ve got a new hamster.”  “Oh Grandpa is this thing called dead.  Will he still pick me up from football?”  “Oh Grandpa is this thing called dead and he won’t pick me up from football again.”  That old people die – “If old people die that means that Granny will also die.”  “Oh, all people die, that means that Mummy and Daddy and Mr Sharples or whatever will die.”  “Oh hang on, all people die, I will die.”

Kathryn:       Yes.

Di:               “I can kill myself.”  And that usually takes us up until about nine or 10, you know, and by then we’ve got pretty much – depending on, you know, our learning difficulties or, you know, neuro­typicalness or whatever, we’ve usually got an understanding of that and so for a child who is bereaved at three, they sort of understand it again at five and again at seven and again at 10, you know, so it’s tough for a kid who is bereaved of somebody really close and important to them at a very young age because they sort of re-understand it over and over again.

Kathryn:       I suppose as well there’s the whole – one of my son’s friends did have a father who passed away when he was quite young and I think it does come into that thing – it’s all the things isn’t it?  It’s parents’ evenings, it’s coming for the Christmas plays, it’s, you know, the sports days, everything.  There’s that subtle reminder in a sense that there’s something different happening and it is, you know, kind of like probably a little bit of a bereavement each time, you know, ‘cos you are having to revisit it which I think is incredibly hard.  So it’s a lot to face, it’s a lot to face as an adult let alone as a child.

Di:               And as an adult – well as a teenager and as an adult I think that we are – as I was saying – even more aware of how that person will also be missing in our future and that is one of the things which makes it hard for adults to be bereaved, is that we’ve got all of those memories of that person, all of our understanding of how important they are to us now at this moment in time and how much we’re going to miss them in the future.  We also have a perspective which goes, “How terribly sad for them to miss out on all of this stuff in the future.”

Kathryn:       Yes.

Di:               Whereas for children, it’s much more immediate.  “I need my Mum to hold me now and she can’t,” and that’s not bearable.

Kathryn:       I think something that’s sort of like just triggered in my mind actually as we’ve been chatting as well is that when I was nine, a classmate of mine unfortunately died in a very, very freak accident and that was incredibly hard, you know, because, you know, even though it was a friend – he wasn’t like a best friend or whatever but he was, you know, it was such a shock because it was like he was there, one day he wasn’t there and he obviously then had this massive funeral where everybody attended and that’s really stuck with me because obviously in the nature that he had passed away, that’s led me to be very paranoid about certain activities with my children so I’m – just obviously I won’t go into it too much and that because it’s obviously – anonymity and things like that but it really, really sort of like – and then obviously my kids now kick off and they’ll say, “Why don’t you like us having this or doing this?”  And I’ll just have to say – my eldest knows and my middle child possibly knows a little bit because again I want to protect him from it but it’s just, you know, when they’re getting frustrated at you because they’re just like, “Well I want to do this,” and you’re just like, “Well no, you’re just not doing it,” and it’s just trying to sort of – it does – it really, really stays with you.  I mean, what –

Paul:           The other part of that kind of conversation around why we do what we do is not just in the immediate term but also as a preventative tool.  So I think we’re always conscious that actually for children who haven’t received that support, that there are long-term impacts that can – not necessarily always be prevented but can be minimised or we can do our best to try and help that child to overcome that so they don’t need to go through that situation.  So looking at the long-term impacts on their mental health, their employment, you know, their education, their failing to gain any sort of qualifications.  These are all things that are linked to children who have been bereaved and we can see that from the research that has been produced and also thinking about, you know, even the more stark side of things looking at children who’ve ended up in the corrective system, just because of that, you know, you can’t necessarily pinpoint that moment in their life and say, “Well they’ve ended up in prison because of this thing that’s happened to them,” but actually there is that trend that you can go back and see that there was that key thing that happened in their childhood and there is a natural trend that follows on.

I think that’s something we’re conscious of that this isn’t just about providing an emotive support or providing something that is – I think people often look at our work and think it’s a real kind of cushty, lovely thing to be able to provide because that child is sad which is absolutely one part of what we do but there is also that part of actually – there’s a serious nature to what we do in terms of preventing the long-term impacts.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.

Paul:           Yeah.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I mean, what thing that – so sort of like as an example, you know, so like I said if I’m an insurance policyholder and something’s happened and I’m worried, you know, anybody as you say, anybody can call – ring the helpline but what would – what is the process in a sense?  What happens – I appreciate this may be different between, you know, sort of a young child and somebody who’s older but what would be the general steps that would happen when somebody contacts you?  What’s that process and what happens?

Di:               Well I guess the first thing is that initial call so people can also contact us of course by email.  We also have instant messenger.  Once in a while we actually still get a letter would you believe but mainly the great majority of our calls come through our helpline as the first point of call and I guess that phone call – that initial phone call can be a few minutes, can go, you know, up to 45 minutes or even longer and I guess what we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to understand the situation, we’re trying to hear about the children concerned, we’re trying to understand some of those things I was, you know, exploring to begin with, you know, what else is going on at the moment with the children?  Was this a sudden death?  Was this an expected death, you know, what sort of support have they got around?  And we’ll give some initial guidance on ways of talking about death, talking about this particular death, we’ll give some ideas of support for children because sometimes the call will come in from somebody who’s just experienced a bereavement, or the children have, or it might have been 10 years ago and now the effect is coming through.  So depending on those circumstances, we might be exploring slightly different things.

Sometimes that call is all that’s needed.  Sometimes we’ll arrange a second call because, you know, to take a recent example, somebody who called us because a parent had died – the other parent had literally died and they were on their way to the school to pick up the children and, “How do I explain, you know, what has happened?”  And they couldn’t then – they also wanted to know about, “How do I talk about the funeral?  Do I keep them off school?  Do I –” whatever – and under those circumstances, we would be arranging a call back ourselves so that we would speak to them another, you know, once or twice but after a period of time after a bereavement, we don’t tend to rush in too quickly because there’s so much chaos in those first early days and weeks but we would be able to actually then pass them across to our wonderful team of people who can do a little bit more in-depth work, either working with a parent or a carer to support the children, you know, giving them ideas and tools and opportunities and guidance or working directly with the children if they are a little bit older and can handle the at-a-distance support.

Kathryn:       Yeah.  I think that was probably going to be sort of like one of my next questions in a sense – is that – because I know that with some support services, especially when it comes to maybe things like counselling or like different things that can be on offer, that there is kind of like an age limit in a sense of you must be at least 16 or 18 to be able to actually receive that group support directly.  So I was going to say – that was one of my next things to say, is it possible?  I mean, I appreciate with young children that’s not going to be something that’s going to be easy at all to do remotely but obviously it’s good to know that there are instances where you are able to obviously step in and do that.  Am I right in thinking that counselling is something that would be maybe potentially on offer or is that sort of like more like a referral-type process to the NHS or something like that?  I just – I’m not sure how it works.

Di:               Well I guess for the part of our service which is aimed at supporting parents and carers, our age range would go from nought to, you know, 20, 25 or whatever because that’s about giving them the support or if their little people are nought and two and five, we could still offer support to the parents to support the children.  For older children they need, you know, obviously they need the support of somebody around while we are working with them because it can be emotional or challenging or, you know, tough, you know, and so we sort of have a bit of a wobbly line on that about when those children are old enough, you know, there’s not like, you know, “Ah, you’re eight, we can now do it.”  You know, some seven-year olds would respond tremendously to that, some 10-year olds wouldn’t.  So it’s a bit of a wobbly line depending on our sort of initial contact.  But we are able to offer support now either through either prong of our service up to 25-year olds.

Kathryn:       I believe – I know most people probably who are listening will have heard Lindsay’s story when she came on a few months ago talking about losing her Mum earlier this year and I know that she obviously accessed your service and they were absolutely brilliant and she’s really sort of like – beforehand she was so excited that I’m doing this, you know, sort of like being able to sort of like showcase what you guys are doing but I believe as well there’s things like, you know, some sort of like books as well that are available to sort of help sort of like really explain it to the children.  But again, I think it’s that thing – I was looking on the website as well, there’s like different ages I think of the books isn’t there, just to try and again, just make it something that is really understandable to the child.

Di:               Yep, we have specialist publications that we produce ourselves so we have a book about supporting children who are under five, a book for the primary age range, a book for the secondary age range and a book for children who maybe have special educational needs and understanding and we have a couple of workbooks that go along with that which have got some activities in that for children.  But also through the helpline we can – or through our email service, we can also recommend books which are sort of commercially available that help fill in the picture for children so we can make specific recommendations for specific families and say, “Ah, one that might help here is, you know, we can’t provide that ourselves but this is, you know, a great one to talk about this particular death of this particular person.”

Kathryn:       Okay.  I know, as I say, just looking at the website, there was a – I know there’s a shop and there were so many different things on there.  Like I say, there was the books, there was the memory boxes, there was quite a few different things and I think, you know, it’s one of those things where – I don’t know, I wonder if some people – sort of like I think everybody instinctively would want to do some kind of a memory box but then I wonder if some people would maybe be a little bit apprehensive because it could also be for them too emotional to be doing that and putting all those memories of a partner and the parent of their child, you know, that’s a lot actually to be faced with on top of everything else, you know, and I suppose a big question is, is how important is that for children and what’s kind of like the feedback that people give or potentially children give as they get older as to how important these services have been for them?

Di:               So picking up the memory box bit specifically, if I could just pick up that.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Di:               The thing about a memory box is it’s a tool for encouraging families and individuals to refresh their memories, to think about their memories, to revisit memories and things like that.  It’s nothing more, nothing less and it needn’t be a smart box with, you know, pictures on it, it can be an ordinary shoebox or it can be a drawer of a chest of drawers or something.  But for children it can be really helpful to have something concrete to base a memory around and that in turn helps you access maybe some of the other memories that are not so concrete and the sort of things that we would be encouraging and sometimes – I mean, what I should say is that a lot of our conversations are with people who are facing their own death, so it’s people who are preparing for dying so their pre-death conversations and sometimes you’ll find parents start off a memory box before they die, if they know that they are, you know, they have a terminal illness and that can be really helpful for children because then the parents can help label them and say, “This was a shell from that holiday we had, you know, when your Nan fell in the sea,” you know, or whatever and, “This is a ticket from that concert that you were really far too young for me to take you to but, you know, we had this amazing time.”  “These are some of the cards you sent me and some of the cards I sent you,” and then afterwards, you know, after somebody has died, if you’re creating a memory box at that time, you can put in things that the child really links to that person which can be something like a perfume or an aftershave that they wore or a scarf or a tie as well as those other things like, you know, stones and special teddies and things like that.  And what happens is you don’t have to look at it every day, you can keep it under your bed, you can keep it somewhere else but when you actually look at it, turning over the items helps you turn over the memories in your mind.

Kathryn:       Yeah.

Di:               And it just – it’s a bit like, you know, saving a computer file, you know, you’re refreshing it, you’re keeping the new version and you’re keeping some of those memories more vividly than you might do otherwise.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, I – that’s – with the baby keepsake boxes, I’ve got them for each of my children.  Every now and then I’ll look into them and it’s that thing of like, you know, the first outfit that they had and like the first lock of hair and it is just – immediately it’s obviously just a very positive thing when it’s that kind of a situation but I hadn’t even thought about using a keepsake box in the sense of somebody who is terminally ill in regards to doing that which I imagine is an incredibly – I’ve heard of things like, you know, writing the birthday cards every year up until a certain age or something but yeah, I’ve not heard of it in that way and I think that would be an incredibly emotional but powerful thing to do, especially as well if you’re able to include the child in it ‘cos then each time they see it they’ll – again it will evoke that extra memory of having done it.  Yes, that’s brilliant.

Di:               Yes, indeed.  Yes, parents who, you know, are able, you know, whether they are the person who is ill or the person who will survive, you know, prepare children, you know, for a parent’s death, quite extraordinary people, absolutely extraordinary but all ordinary people become extraordinary under those circumstances.

Kathryn:       Yes, well I think you have to don’t you?  There’s no choice, you have to just get – it’s that typical British thing isn’t it, you just have to get on with it, you have to step up and get through it and everything but it’s just making sure that we’re all emotionally and mentally intact as we’re getting through it which I think is the best thing there.  So I think you possibly have some case studies for us to maybe just have a little chat through, am I right?

Di:               When you were talking and thinking about stories, I mean – I guess – I mean we hear so many, we get about – well somewhere between 20, 25, 30 calls a day on the helpline –

Kathryn:       Oh wow.

Di:               So you can imagine how many – and those people are probably supporting on average about – on average two children, occasionally you’ll hit, you know, seven children in a family or a blended family of 10 children or a whole primary school class involved because, like you were suggesting, it was a classmate who died or something.  But – so you can imagine how many kids that we’re helping like 60, 70 children a day indirectly through this support and about half of our calls roughly are from – are about children who have had an expected death.  Doesn’t mean it’s expected in as far as the children are concerned but it was a death through illness, even if they were old enough to know what was happening, it’s always a surprise at the last minute.  Getting on for a quarter of our calls are about a death by suicide so that is actually growing to maybe be as much as a third of the calls that we have are about a death by suicide and then the rest of the calls are about deaths that happen suddenly, like an accident or through violence, you know, or road traffic collisions that sort of thing or a heart attack, you know, a sudden illness that sort of happens.

So I guess if we’re thinking of stories around that and some of the complications that can happen, one of the ones I was thinking about this morning and I’m changing details here, you know, because we’d only ever talk about anonymous cases, you know, for our confidentiality reasons.  But I was thinking about a call I had with a grandparent who had moved in with their own child when that child had a terminal diagnosis in order to look after the three children and their own child and had become sort of such a crucial part of that family and the family was a little three, stroke four-year old who was increasingly clingy of course because of the circumstances of, you know, having a parent who was increasingly unavailable because of their own illness so really was a shadow of the grandparent, a middle one who had just had a diagnosis and support package being put in place for autism –

Kathryn:       Right.

Di:               And an older one who was just being prepared to move up to secondary school.

Kathryn:       Oh wow.

Di:               And with the great support of the grandparent, they were able, you know, they were there, the parent died, they went to the funeral, they were supported and then the estranged other parent turned up and they disappeared off with the estranged other parent to live 300 miles away from the Gran in a different part of the country altogether.  Now that doesn’t mean that was a negative thing.  That might have been an extraordinary thing for the family but it meant for the little three-year old suddenly going away from the only two people that they were really familiar with – it meant that the statement process would have to start all over again for the middle child and the elder one would have to go through that whole change to secondary school without any peers or anybody else going along with them.

So I only think of that particular call because it brings up so many, you know, for me – it also brings up the difficulty for the Gran who was saying, “What do I do now I’m 300 miles away?  What can I do most helpfully?”  Then we were talking about the books and the memories and how you capture these memories and how you – how hopefully we could support the Dad to support the children as well and that’s the beauty of being able to offer this service nationally is that we can, you know, you can reach just as easily to the Dad as we could to the Gran who was, you know, physically living nearer.

Kathryn:       Yeah.  That case study is just incredible.  I’m not – I refuse to cry while the podcast is recording but that really just gets me.  Obviously just thinking of my three-year old and, you know, what, yeah, that just – I can’t think about it.  I can’t think about it.  Thank you for sharing that.  As you say, there’s so many different aspects to that, you know, it’s preparing, getting everything in place, maybe seeing like a bit of a glimmer of hope and everything suddenly turning completely upside down again. It’s incredible.

Di:               And, as I said, it wasn’t just saying that was necessarily a negative outcome, it was just how – it shows how children, when somebody important to them dies, they don’t just “lose” – one of those confusing words for children, but they don’t just lose that person.  They may lose a huge amount, so you may need to go to live with somebody else, your grandparents or your other parent or an auntie or something and that means you lose your familiar bedroom, your familiar bush that you have a den in in the garden, you know, the school, the teachers that you love, you know, the corner shop, the play­ground.  It’s – there’s a lot of what we call secondary losses that can come, you know, when somebody dies.

Kathryn:       I think that goes back to the thing I was saying earlier as well, saying that I can imagine, you know, I think a lot of us can guess in a sense what a child goes through but you don’t think about all that.  You don’t think about the fact that the, you know, everything – the friendships, the just being – the familiarity of, “Oh if I’m going to the shops, this is the route and I’ll be able to see my favourite tree,” and, you know, the different things like that.  There’s so many different aspects to it.

Paul:           The cat that sits on the wall on that walk that you always say hello to.

Kathryn:       Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.  Well I think obviously the work that you guys are doing is obviously absolutely essential and I think what’s, you know, sort of like a bit strange for me is the fact that it’s only probably in the last few years or so that I’ve been really – ‘cos of the industry that I work in, that I’ve become quite familiar with yourselves.  I just think it’s so important to get the message of what you guys can offer out there.  So I suppose Paul, what’s the best way for people to get hold of you guys?

Paul:           Well I think in general, obviously this is the Protection Podcast so I think it’s worth pointing out that our partnership with the protection industry is absolutely vital.  In fact, with our partnership with Swiss Life which launched our helpline back in 2001, so it’s really been integral to our growth and who we are and, you know, while we have you I think it’s an opportunity to talk about how we work with insurers and the fact that we do that in a number of ways.  Really that’s around building bespoke agree­ments that’s right for them and their customers.  Typically – what would that mean, would be looking at creating a unique phone number for that insurer so they can then promote that to their customers as part of their value-add benefits and at the point of claim.

So that means that when the customer calls we know who their insurer is and they’re made aware that their call is being answered thanks to the support of their insurer which I think is really important actually at reminding them that actually this – although it is, like you pointed out, it is a generally available service to the public, it’s that point of reminder of saying, “Actually this has been answered thanks to Cura or thanks to whoever it was that put you in contact with us.”  And at that point, you know, we already discuss that kind of pathway but a professional practitioner like Di would then speak with the customer to answer any immediate concerns or questions they might have and then refer them on for that ongoing support with our team through digital or remote services or in some cases face-to-face if they felt that was right depending on the situation.  And that support then typically follows a kind of program of at least six sessions over a period of six months and during those sessions they’ll focus on all sorts of things; developing relationships, the uniqueness of their family, the network of support that they have around them, exploring memories like we’ve already talked about and allowing the child to explore their own worries; those challenges that they might not have thought about and really just ways of coping alongside professionals who can help them kind of understand and guide them through those concerns.

And that’s what we do with the protection industry, you know, it’s about creating bespoke arrangements that work for them and for us but like you say, it’s – it is an accessible service for anyone who needs our help and the best way to get in touch with us is, as Di said earlier, through our helpline so anyone can call that during office hours on 08088 020021 or they can visit our website, so it’s winstonswish.org.

Kathryn:       Absolutely.  I think the thing that’s sticking in my mind at the moment is when you were saying Di, that you get about 20 to 25 calls a day and I’m getting a little bit shivery just thinking about it.  It’s just – it’s the amount of children who are clearly suffering bereavements.  I just – I’m going to go and use a calculator in a minute and try and figure that out and then I’m going to really upset myself for the rest of the day thinking about it but –

Di:               Let me tell you the figure because I think that’s really, really important to put it into context because I don’t think people realise how common it is for a child to lose a parent.  So specifically a parent, about – brace yourself Kathryn, about 111 children a day lose a parent.

Kathryn:       A day?

Di:               A day.  So that’s about 45 – 44 – 45,000 children a year.

Kathryn:       Oh gosh.

Di:               And if you actually – by the time children hit 16, that means that there’s a cohort of about 300,000 children who’ve lost a parent, specifically a parent and one way we try and make this real is that, you know there was a British firm on the top floors of one of the Twin Towers?  I think it was –

Kathryn:       I didn’t realise that actually.

Di:               Cantor – I think it was Cantor Fitzgerald, something like that.  And we estimate or it is estimated that about 69 children were bereaved in 9/11, the event that we call 9/11 but actually on 9/11 – on that same day, nearly double the number would have been bereaved of a parent as well and on 9/12 and yesterday and today.  You know, there are these everyday tragedies just because sometimes we bundle them up into a number but actually it’s a huge – it breaks down as about one in 25, 26 children so like a one in an average classroom will lose a parent and if you then add in the ones who have experienced the death of a sibling or a grandparent who was extremely close to them, you know, it’s – the number – it’s a very important issue that gets really overlooked.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, and I think, you know, again, just that it kind of encapsulates everything that’s been said as well, it’s just the fact of one, it’s making sure – just for the, you know, the right thing to do, how important your services are to help those children but then what you were saying as well, Paul, about how it can be linked so much to like correction facilities and different things like that as to how this could potentially, you know, it’s just incredible and I think, you know, I’m one of those people – I’m never really keen on statistics, I like stories, but those statistics are absolutely, you know, you can’t ignore just how important they are and how much they stand out.  I had no idea it was that common and you kind of think with all we know about how much, you know, there’s cancer about and everything else and there’s tragic accidents that can happen – even when you experience them sort of locally to you, you don’t necessarily think about all the things that are happening to them.

Paul:           It’s huge.  I think that one in 20 – I usually say it’s one in 29 but I’ll take Di’s figure of one in 25 in terms of that one in every classroom, you know, the work that we do with schools for example then really comes into its own because if you think if that teacher is in front of a classroom, that class is likely to change every year and they will be coming into contact with, you know, not just one child that year but actually potentially one child every year or multiple children every year and they’re spending the majority of their day with that person at the front of their classroom.  They’re relying on them for their emotional support and, you know, how does that person face that?  And so during the first lock­down, we launched a new online training system for teachers.

Kathryn:       Oh lovely.

Paul:           So that was free of charge to any teacher who needed it and it really just talked about the basics of childhood bereavement and how to support a child in that situation, things to think about in your classroom, really simple things – things like if you’re telling a story and that involves somebody who dies, actually just being mindful that there’s a child in your classroom who has faced that and making sure there’s support available for that child ahead of time and we were absolutely astounded that over 15,000 teachers downloaded that resource within the first lockdown because there was just this real wave of panic from teachers and schools saying, “You know, actually, we don’t know what we’re going to face once the schools reopen.  We don’t know how many kids are going to come back to our school and will have lost a parent, will have lost a grandparent, will have lost somebody close to them because of this horrific, you know, situation that we find ourselves in.”

And that really brought it to life for me to think about actually the work that we could do there was about educating teachers and we, you know, we’ll never know the impact that that had on the thousands of children that they were able to support thanks to that.  Because, you know, for everyone that reaches out to us to say thank you ‘cos they were able to support a child, there will be five others that don’t ever need to tell us that and that’s really important.

Kathryn:       Absolutely and that’s just reminded me actually saying all that – so going back to the situation when I was nine, I remember now the head teacher and all the teachers in the hall obviously having to sit the entire school down ‘cos it was a smallish school but, you know, still a couple of hundred kids at least and us all being sat down and being told the following morning as to what had happened.  I just remember the headteacher’s face now and how it just – his face just crumpled and, you know, the emotion and I think that was part of obviously for the kids as well what probably made it even more emotional for us as well because there was this big man who was the headteacher and, you know, he’d obviously – he’d lost it and understandably so and so did all the other teachers and just trying to figure out how they could all get – so I think that’s – yeah, incredible that, you know, teachers are obviously actively looking at doing that but that you’re able to provide that resource is just phenomenal.

We’re coming towards the end of the podcast now and it does feel a little bit strange to do the truth or lie feature after talking about such emotional and important things so I feel terrible for putting you on the spot like this now.

Di:               But we’re – but I think the key thing to say is exactly what Paul has said, you know, which is that we’re about hope.  It’s perfectly great – it’s great for kids to laugh and to have fun, you know, it’s about, you know, this is a huge and terribly sad thing but they’re still entitled to have their fun and, you know, it’s –

Kathryn:       They can’t feel guilty for enjoying life.

Di:               Exactly, exactly.  So you don’t have to feel guilty for talking about –

Kathryn:       I know – I’m not a child – we’ll do the trade then, the very good thing about hope then so all of us are being so hopeful over Christmas so we’re going to have our little truth or lie feature of our favourite thing at Christmas.  And I’ll kick off to say that my favourite thing is carol singers.  Who’d like to go next?  Paul?

Paul:           My favourite thing is actually the work Christmas party.

Di:               And my favourite thing is the smell and the taste of chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Kathryn:       Ah, very nice, very nice.  Well thank you Paul and Di for joining me, it’s been lovely having you both on and to be talking about this topic.

Paul:           Thank you for having us.

Di:               Thank you so much for the opportunity and the support.

Kathryn:       Absolutely, absolutely.  Next time I’m going to be speaking with Alan Knowles and we’re going to be doing an income protection masterclass.  If you’d like a reminder of the next episode, please drop me a message on social media or visit the website www.practical-protection.co.uk.  And please don’t forget that if you’re listening to this as part of your work, you can claim a CPD certificate on the website too.  Thank you both again.

Paul:           You’re welcome. Thank you.

Kathryn:       Bye.

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