Many universities and colleges have initiatives or support programmes in place for students who have been bereaved as a child.

Who is a bereaved child?

Child bereavement occurs when a child loses someone of importance in their life – a parent, sibling, or friend – changing that person’s life forever.

Some bereaved children might not express their loss and bottle up their feelings. Others may not think it’s not worth telling the university or college about their circumstances, because they feel like it’s not linked to their education. But, balancing education with grief and the difficulties that come with it is challenging, so it’s important to know there is support if, or when, it’s needed.

Every 22 minutes a child in Britain is bereaved of a parent, which equates to 24,000 new children each year learning to live with a powerful range of confusing and conflicting emotions. Bottled up, these emotions can have damaging consequences in later life for the individual, their family and society as a whole – Winston’s Wish

Research before you apply

There’s a range of help out there. Contact your university as early as possible to discuss your circumstances and support needs – however big or small. This will help you make a smooth transition to uni and succeed in your studies.

What support is available to bereaved children in higher education?

Universities have different levels of bereavement support, and there are many ways to find it.

Most universities have free counselling services, for students to talk about their grief and get any support they need. Most also have chaplains who support students in the practice of their faith. Check their websites for details. 

    1. Find out what support is available at your first choice uni

      It can be difficult to go from home – where you might have the correct support/counselling – to university where you might not know how to find the support you need.

    2. Let your personal tutor know about your situation

      It’s important your tutor knows what you have been through, or are going through. They may be able to help with deadlines and workload if your situation worsens, or you have a period where you need more support.
    3. Reach out to people in a similar position

      It can be lonely If you have no one to talk to, so it’s important to reach out to people who have been through similar experiences and not feel alone. University is a big place and there will be others who have also lost someone important in their life.
    4. Try new and different styles of support

      University is a great place to find different styles of support, and by trying these out you’ll find the right option for you.

    Other places to get support

    If your university doesn’t have the right support for you, you can contact a child bereavement support charity:

    Beth French’s story

    (Founder and Director of Let's Talk About Loss)

    My mum was diagnosed with cancer one month before I started university, and she died during the summer between second and third year. 

    Throughout university I felt distracted by what was happening at home and when I started third year, I felt I didn't care about my grades or doing well because I was feeling overwhelmed by grief. 

    I spoke to my personal tutor, who organised for me to get extenuating circumstances for my exams. I also spoke to my dissertation supervisor who was very supportive, and I got six free sessions of counselling from the university counselling service. 

    I still had a very tough year, but it was so important to make sure that everyone around me knew and was able to offer support and a bit of extra time and space – that really helped me get through my dissertation and exams. 

    This content was written in collaboration with Shoutout Bereavement UK.