Parental death: a systematic review of support experiences and needs of children and parent survivors

Alexandra Wray, Benjamin Pickwell-Smith, Sarah Greenley, Sophie Pask, Olufikayo Bamidele, Barry Wright, Fliss Murtagh, Jason W Boland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Bereaved people need a supportive response from those around them. Knowing children's and surviving parents' needs following parental death is the first step to ensuring a supportive response. However, no systematic review has reported on this phenomenon.

AIM: To systematically identify and synthesise qualitative literature exploring support experiences of parentally bereaved children and surviving parents.

METHODS: Systematic review with thematic synthesis, following Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis guidelines. MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL and the British Nursing Database were searched for relevant papers to September 2021. Included studies were appraised for quality and thematically synthesised using Thomas and Harden's thematic synthesis framework.

RESULTS: Fifteen qualitative studies from nine countries were included. There were four analytical themes from the children's perspectives (1) Openness of communication with children about death and dying, (2) Children's challenges of managing change, (3) Navigating emotions, and (4) Children's acceptability, access and engagement with support. There were three analytical themes from the parents' perspectives: (1) Adjusting as a parent, (2) Supporting their children, and (3) Parent's acceptability, access and engagement with support.

CONCLUSIONS: Following a parental death, open and honest communication and involvement in what is happening within the family will help children cope. Both children and parents suppress emotions and avoid conversations to protect each other and those around them. A taboo around death exists and constrains the support some families receive. Childhood bereavement is a public health issue, with a need for professionals and communities to better understand and respond to the needs of bereaved families.CRD42020166179.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalBMJ Supportive & Palliative Care
Early online date16 Nov 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Nov 2022

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© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2022.

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