• Every 20 minutes a parent of dependent children dies in the UK (org)
  • 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce
  • Over 58,000 children in the UK were identified as needing protection from abuse in 2017 (NSPCC)

Other life changing experiences – moving to a new area, transferring to a new school, losing a pet – can all impact greatly on a child’s life.

Supporting all our children who experience trauma is challenging. When the child has speech, language and communication difficulties, it would be fair to say that an extra layer of consideration is needed to try and support their understanding about what is happening.

Several years ago, I was working at a mainstream junior school supporting a girl (whom I will call Sarah), who had global delay. Sarah was a delight although required lots of 1-1 support as she was only able to access a limited amount of the curriculum and was transferring to specialist provision at the end of primary school. She was liked well enough by her peers but didn’t really have a friendship group that she belonged to and would very much be on the periphery.

Tragedy struck her family when her older sister died very suddenly. Sarah arrived at school the next day bewildered, in shock, and unable to comprehend what had happened.

Of course, everyone at school was informed. The Head called a special assembly; her peers supported her in lessons and at break and began to include her in all their games and activities. Initially Sarah seemed to delight in this attention but her behaviour quickly changed. She became sillier, laughing at inappropriate times, playing the clown in class and becoming cheeky and more daring as she struggled to cope with her feelings.

After a few weeks, Sarah found herself back where she was before, on the outside looking in, but with terrible feelings of anger and distress that she was unable to verbalise, because she didn’t have the right tools. A typical day would go like this:

  • Logging into the computer and viewing the newspaper article frequently throughout the day (help was needed with this on each occasion)
  • Any mention of death would send her in to a frenzy; subjects such as RE and History became no-go areas
  • Challenging behaviour and unpredictable mood swings

Our fantastic staff, Flo and parents were of huge support to Sarah and her family, but what else helped her get through each painful day at school?

  • Making a book about her sister, drawings, feelings, letters and pictures for her were all included. She also took this to her new school on Transition Day
  • Answering honestly and truthfully to her questions; particularly around the funeral and what it entailed
  • Giving her space to shout and cry and to talk
  • Offering alternative activities when a subject was likely to add to her distress – in particular RE

It really helped that Sarah had a ‘structured’ day at school as far as was possible after a few weeks. This sometimes meant being a bit firm, yet gentle at times. Going to assembly, going to literacy and numeracy groups and being encouraged to ask permission to leave the class are part of a normal day at school and so we tried to follow this routine where possible.

Despite the challenges, her resilience shone through and she is now at secondary school and doing well. When I reflect on that year, I know that ultimately Sarah felt secure and safe and was able to put her trust in the staff.

That year made a huge impact on us as a team and we are certainly not alone in having to support young people who are living with life changing circumstances.

Some really good support and resources are available to help you:

Partnership for Children – www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk

Child Bereavement UK Helpline – 0800 0288840

NSPCC Separation, divorce and contact – www.nspcc.org.uk

Back Pocket Teacher – www.backpocketteacher.co.uk

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