Grief in School Communities: Effective Support Strategies

Grief in School Communities: Effective Support Strategies

Grief in School Communities: Effective Support Strategies

Grief in School Communities: Effective Support Strategies


"In the preface of the book, the author expresses a hope that the book will provide individuals and school communities with the means to create environments in which grief, while a difficult experience, is seen as a normal life event. Rowling's book does just this. Instead of presenting a targeted intervention for young people at risk, the emphasis is on helping all of the school population in a variety of ways
"... Rowling's 20 years of research into loss and grief in schools is reflected in her deep understanding of the needs and experiences of school personnel, students and their families. Personal accounts from these people are recorded verbatim throughout the book. These 'voices over' deliver compelling messages from people directly involved in the issues under discussion.
"In one volume this book provides an indispensable reference for managing grief in schools. It is at once scholarly, readable, practical and affirming."

Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling 13(1) July 2003

This book is an essential guide for all members of a school community and other professionals who need to know how to be supportive in times of crisis - including social workers, psychologists and bereavement specialists. Whilst the emphasis of many books about young people and loss and grief has been on how to support those young people as individuals in a family context, this book takes a different approach and uses 'the school community' as the organizing supportive framework. This approach recognizes that losses are embedded in a young person's social environment - the school and its community, as well as the family. The theoretical orientation utilised is that death and all loss experiences are interpreted through social interaction and experienced within a social context. The book is firmly based on theory, research and practice. It breaks new ground in demonstrating the components in a school that can be used to support grieving individuals in times of personal crisis and to support whole school communities when traumatic incidents occur. Within this comprehensive approach attention is given to the needs and experiences of personnel - teachers, students, school leaders, parents; as well as school policies and programs and links with outside services.


Until recently the impact of bereavement on young people was considered only in terms of its effect upon the adult they might become rather than concern for the experiences and needs of the young people themselves (Doka 1989). The last decade has seen increasing professional and public interest in the needs and rights of bereaved young people and their families. However, this increasing awareness has not been matched by the coherent development of appropriate support structures (Stokes et al. 1999). Specialist bereavement services are being established piecemeal in the absence of national policy or planning and with no agreed standards or monitoring. Young people's chances of finding what they need are hit and miss; provision is patchy and quality variable.

All young people have a powerful drive to ask questions and to try to make sense of the world in which they live. All young people will experience loss: the death of a pet, moving house, failing an important exam, watching news of disasters on television, ending a love relationship, experiencing the separation or divorce of parents. Adults would prefer that young people did not. Adults may be struggling with their own grief. They may find it hard to know how to respond to their children's needs for information and emotional support, or distressing to witness their efforts to unravel issues of justice and meaning. As one mother whose husband had a terminal illness said of her young daughter's reactions: 'It hurts to watch my child in pain. But then I realised that it isn't a choice of whether she will hurt or not, but whether I will know about it.' (Christ 2000). I remember my own sense of inadequacy in the face of the questions of a 6-year-old boy whose mother had recently died of cancer and whose pet cat now had cancer and was suffering with intractable symptoms. He said to me: 'Black cat is dying. They're going to kill black cat. If they put animals to sleep why don't . . .

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