The aim of this study is to present a general overview of the evidence base in relation to the effects of parental bereavement in childhood. The primary focus is upon research conducted during the past ten years, the available commentary and key theoretical ideas on the topic, notably from Bowlby (1969; 1980), Parkes (1986) and Worden (2003) together with an outline of the contemporary information and guidelines available for those directly involved with this phenomenon, particularly parents and children.
An overview of the research suggests that there areconflicting findings, particularly in terms of the nature and extent ofpsychological difficulties, such as depression, that may present inlater life. Two clear messages seem to emerge. Firstly, a significantnumber of studies indicate that further research is needed into theinfluence of variables that potentially mediate, or facilitate, theoutcome for the bereaved child, such as the child’s personality traits,family and school factors and other life events. Secondly, thereseems to be a need for more longitudinal studies in this area andstudies which ask similar questions and adopt similar research designand methodology, particularly in the qualitative field, so that usefulcomparisons may be made between different findings.
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The purpose of this literature review is to explore the evidence basein relation to the effects of parental bereavement in childhood. Theresearch and commentary on this topic is useful in terms of social workpractice because it offers much insight into the experiences and needsof children who have lost a parent. Furthermore, the evidence includesmuch background theoretical material regarding issues of attachment,loss, grief and the making and breaking of affectional bonds forchildren, offering useful insights for those working with children inneed.
The death of a parent in childhood, by definition, is oftenpremature and unexpected. It is an event commonly understood tointerfere with the normal process of growing up. As the research andcommentary in this field demonstrates, the child’s life is shaken fromits very foundations and the confidence the child has developed thusfar in the world around them and within themselves has effectively beendestroyed (Brown, 1999). This review offers a general overview of thecurrent literature relating to parental death in childhood to include arange of research studies undertaken within the last ten years,commentary by theorists and writers on the topic such as Bowlby (1969;1980) and Parkes (1986) underpinning much of the research and aselection of the advice, information and guidelines available onchildhood bereavement and offered to interested parties such asparents, service providers and the children themselves.
This review differs from other reviews on the topic. Firstly, itconstitutes the most recent review of its kind, the latest review beingthat undertaken by Dowdney (2000), at least as far as can be determinedgiven the limitations on time available to search for such reviews. Secondly, this review includes an up-to-date indication of thepractical and accessible guidance and information available tointerested parties on child bereavement which is not present in otherreviews,