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Bereaved parents lack support after loss of child

40% of bereaved parents left unsupported at work

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 01 June 2018

Around 40% of parents whose child has died are left without support when they return to work, according to stillbirth charity Sands.

Sands is today launching a Finding the Words campaign designed to help encourage all parts of society including clinicians to help break what it calls “the wall of silence” around the loss of a baby.

It carried out a survey* of 2,769 bereaved parents, grandparents and other family members from which it found that almost all respondents (95%) had shared the happy news of their pregnancy with colleagues, but after returning to work, 40% said no one talked to them about their loss.

Only a fifth of parents surveyed said they had been offered or provided with any bereavement support by their employer, and almost half said employers did not discuss entitlements to pay and leave with them, following the death of their baby.

In the worst individual cases, some parents said they faced dismissal due to absence from work, were made to sit away from colleagues, or were compelled to provide evidence that their baby had died.

After the death of their baby, most people sought support from family (81%), friends (62%) and employers (13%), but 12% did not seek support from anyone, the survey showed.

Respondents also mentioned Sands and other charities, counsellors and other health professionals, the internet, and religious organisations as sources of support.

The charity said it was urging employers to get in touch for advice on supporting bereaved parents better.

Dr Clea Harmer, chief executive of Sands said: “Sadly, the death of a baby is not a rare event but too often, bereaved parents are faced by a wall of silence because people around them, family, friends, and colleagues, are lost for words. We want everyone to know how to start a conversation with anyone whose baby has died, however long ago.

“For grieving parents, returning to work may be a difficult step but the workplace can be a vital source of support. The government is proposing two weeks of additional pay and leave for bereaved parents from 2020, but we need employers to do more right now to ensure parents know their rights, and that colleagues feel comfortable in talking to parents about the death of their baby.”

Bel Mooney, co-founder of Sands, said: “We must break the silence around baby loss. And that reaching out in simple human sympathy can start in the workplace, if employers recognise the importance of what has happened.”

*What parents told us about bereavement support at work. A survey carried out by Sands, Stillbirth & neonatal death charity, 2018.

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