Communities are the fabric of American society creating supportive networks that foster solidarity, support and love.
Everyday, in communities across the United States, families are silently confronting significant hardships following a death of a child. There are countless “touch points” for these families and each interaction has the unique opportunity to become a hallmark memory that facilitates wellbeing and stability or becomes further victimization.
When a child dies, regardless of age of cause, families interface with several providers during a death event, as well as all their day-to-day support systems. Each “touch point” has a role to play. Here are a few networks that can play a sizable role in a families experience:
Death investigators. Death-scene investigators are among the first professionals to come face to face with families and caregivers in a tragedy. It is important for investigators to: understand that every interaction is a hallmark memory, approach investigations with compassion and seek every opportunity to reduce harm, allow families to say goodbye, share resources, notify families when the autopsy report is ready, provide organ donation opportunity respectfully, recognize that culture matters and seek self-care frequently and consistently.
Employers. Many employers offer bereavement leave; however, the leave is often only a few days, which is not sufficient for most employees coping with a child’s death. Employees who need time away from work to grieve and to cope with the death of a child have no legal right to take leave, with narrow exceptions in Illinois, Oregon and Washington. Bereavement is not an acceptable use of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. As an anchor to family solvency, an employer plays a vital role in short- and long-tern health and wellbeing.
Entertainment and the Arts. Entertainment and the arts play a unique and powerful role in shaping American attitudes and perceptions. It can change societal norms in how we respond and support a family and spotlight the risks and woes families experience.
Faith Leaders. The death of a child shakes the very foundation of a parent’s world view, often leaving them unsure how to reconcile their beliefs with such tragedy. It is important for faith leaders to listen and be present, resist fixing, share resources, acknowledge and affirm, honor both the life and the loss, enlist sensitive, thoughtful members of the community, and learn why the death of a child merits an entirely different response than other forms of bereavement.
First Responders. Responding to the scene of a fatality takes great skill, situational awareness and compassion. It is important that first responders are able to understand relationships on a scene, listen carefully, communicate clearly, offer stability, suspend judgment, be honest share resources and seek self-care.
Healthcare. In the throes of chaotic, unpredictable circumstances, healthcare professionals are faced with complicated decision-making, such as whether to allow a family to hold or touch a child who died suddenly before a police investigation determines cause of death. During these times, it is important for healthcare providers to communicate clearly, understand hallmark memories, listen patiently and quietly, allow parents to parent, generate legacy and memories and seek self-care frequently and consistently.
Reporters. Giving a voice to the voiceless is one of the most powerful tools a reporter can provide in the advent of a tragedy. Yet, responsible media coverage can be difficult to achieve when families are so vulnerable. There are an array of materials to guide reporters on specific trauma topics, how to interview newly bereaved families and the legal and ethical considerations of their coverage.
Schools. Schools play a vital role in American communities serving millions of families every week. Teachers and staff tend to students academic and emotional needs daily. It is important for school providers to acknowledge the loss and listen, understand family dynamics change, recognize you, yourself, are a resource, ensure that school is a safe, supportive environment and not a source of additional stress. The distress a family may be encountering may be overwhelming for everyone. Helping a student prepare and strengthen their responses to stress is important for coping and achieving.