Christine Jardine calls for recording of bereaved children

This week in Parliament, Christine Jardine continued her efforts to get the Government to find some way of recording when children are bereaved so that they can get the help and support that they need.

This matters to her. She was an adult when she lost her Dad at the heartbreakingly young age of 20, but her sisters were 13 and 8 respectively. She spoke in the debate about how that experience had affected all three of them to this day. Had they had access to counselling and support to help them navigate through the trauma, it might have made it easier for them.

She is calling for a simple process of recording whether there are children affected when registering a death. The details could then be passed on to organisations who could offer them help. As she said in the debate, there is plenty political will to address this, it’s simply a question of how.


Here is the text of her speech in full:

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the potential merits of a registry of bereaved children.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I thank the House for this opportunity to discuss an issue that is very close to my heart. I also thank the Minister; when we spoke recently, she understood exactly why this issue is so important, not just to me but to so many people and families, and why I feel almost personally driven to highlight it. There are a variety of reasons for that, many of which I have only recently come to fully appreciate, along with the impact on my own family of something that happened several decades ago. That is why I feel that I need to do everything I can, and we need to do everything we can, to protect our current and future generations of children, not with a new service but, as I will explain, with a simple administrative change—a process to ensure that children benefit from the many services that are there for them.

First, I would like to explain why and how I came to this point—my own journey. As a 20-year-old, I lost my father suddenly from a heart attack one Saturday morning. I thought that I was an adult and that I was okay, and I focused on my two sisters, who were just eight and 13. I thought that they were doing well. For decades, I thought that we had all come through the trauma—because there was a trauma—remarkably unscathed. Gradually, though, I realised that perhaps I had not been as aware of what had happened to me—what had happened to us all—as I thought at the time, and that perhaps things had not been as smooth as they seemed.

It was only when my own daughter was eight, and I watched her and her dad and saw how they enjoyed reading “Harry Potter” together and playing, that I realised, probably for the first time, just how huge the trauma of suddenly not having the dad she idolised at that age had been for my youngest sister. I saw the trauma that she had been through in a very different light. Then, when my daughter was 13, I thought about my middle sister, and saw for the first time how the inescapable insecurities of your teenage years must be so much more complicated when the ground is shifted beneath the family and everything becomes uncertain, and the security that you knew is suddenly gone.

I think it was only when, by the cruellest twist of fate, my own husband died when my daughter was 20—exactly the age I had been—that I realised for the first time not only that I had been much less of an adult that I thought, but the impact that my dad’s death had had on me, not just then but now. I realised that everything I have done —everything that has driven me, and the sense of insecurity and uncertainty, and very often fear about the future, that I have felt throughout my life—stems from that Saturday morning.

I talked about that to my youngest sister, who pointed out that perhaps it was because none of us—myself included—had had any outside professional support. Yes, the girls’ schools were great, our family was wonderful and my mum—well, she just dealt with everything that life had thrown at her. But we never heard from any of the services that were probably available to us at the time. We were never offered any counselling, advice, befriending services or trips away—not because the available organisations did not care or want to help, but because they did not know and we did not know that we needed them. We had never been in contact with social services, so, bluntly, they did not know that we existed. We just got on with it. My sisters, I felt, were too young to realise. I thought that I was okay, and that my family were coping with their own grief and making sure that we were safe and looked after, like every family do. In so many ways, we were lucky, but maybe—just maybe—we could have benefited from something else.

I would love to stand here and say how many children are in that position today—how many children wake up every morning to the pain of knowing that the person they loved, and who cared for them, is not there. I would love to say that all the services that are available to them are getting to them, and that they have that support. But I cannot, because we do not know.

We do not know how many children there are, and we do not know where they are. That is not because the services are not available; of course they are. Schools, social services and fantastic organisations such as Winston’s Wish do a wonderful job of helping youngsters every day—but only the children they know about. They have no way of knowing, as I have no way of knowing—none of us does—how many young people need or would benefit from their help. They cannot reach out and offer them support. They do not know where they are.

Sadly, the reality for a child suffering grief is still that, unless their family has been in contact with social services, or social services have a reason to be in contact with them, they may not be able to benefit from all the help and support that we all want them to have. Schools do a fantastic job, but what if a child moves because their main carer has died? A new school might not know, and how many children really want to be different at school? How many children want to be singled out and for everyone to know how upset they are—to know that they are struggling, because someone has been taken from them, with the anxiety that grips their poor wee hearts every time they leave home about whether everyone they love will still be there at the end of the day? That is their reality.

In the past few months, I have spoken to the voluntary sector, written to the Scottish Government and sat down with the Minister who is here today to discuss the issue. Without exception, they have been supportive. Everyone recognises that there is a problem, wants to help and outlines the wonderful services that are there. But the problem is still that we do not know who needs them and where they are. Pinning down the solution—how to do it—is the issue that everyone seems to grapple with, but it should not be difficult.

In this country, we have registers and statistics for just about everything. A digital society makes a lot of things easier; it is often too easy to keep track of things. I can go online now and check my MOT, my car insurance, my postcode and my council tax. My medical records are online to make it easier for the NHS to know who I am and what I might need if I collapse somewhere away from home. I hate to think exactly what information could be scanned from my passport or my national insurance number. A quick Google search tells us a lot. But if, God forbid, anything were to happen to any of us in this room and we had children, there would be no way of checking if they were there and if they were okay—if they were safe, looked after, coping, or maybe just needing someone to talk to.

I have not met anyone in this place who does not want to address this problem and does not recognise its significance. There is no political issue. There is no divide over whether or not we should be supporting our children. We all want to do it, so what is stopping us? All we need to do, and all I ask the Government to do, is invest some time, thought and care into coming up with what really is an administrative solution and identifying which Department can best administer it and the easiest way to do it. Yes, there may be problems with GDPR and privacy, but we can overcome those.

The solution may be as simple as introducing a system whereby, when someone registers a death, they also register whether there are children who could be affected—upset by the death of a parent, carer, sibling or grandparent —and then sending out the available information, in a leaflet or a letter, to tell them where they can turn for support, checking that they have got it and making sure that the organisations know they are there. It would be a process—a way of collecting data, which we have become very good at in this country recently. It would be a way of making sure that we know where those children who may need the help that is available are, and making sure that we can reach out and offer it. It is the least they deserve.

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  • Diana Simpson 3rd Apr '23 - 9:28am

    It takes a Lib Dem to come up with this. I lost my father, aged 9, and would have benefited greatly from this. I still carry the trauma to this day. Well done, Christine.

  • Well done, Christine, indeed. Lost my mother when I was a child (no support). Only people since who’ve ever ‘understood’ are people with a similar experience. And Diana is right, it’s something you carry with forever.

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