Growing with Grief

Author: Kimberly Helsel
Date: July 17, 2020

A Look at Childhood Bereavement Rates and Support for Local Grieving Children

Long overlooked, childhood bereavement is a critical issue and an increasingly important national priority. Nationally, one in 14 children, or 5.2 million, will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18 based on the 2020 Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM). By age 25, that number more than doubles to 13.2 million.

The Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM) was developed by Judi’s House/JAG Institute in partnership with the New York Life Foundation. The CBEM is the first-of-its-kind tool that uses U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data to report childhood bereavement rates annually. CBEM Reports provide an overview of the prevalence of childhood bereavement at national, state, and regional levels.


Local Impact

Prevalence rates of childhood grief vary across the country. In Pennsylvania, one in 12 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18 according to 2020 CBEM results.

In Blair County, the CBEM approximates 6.4% of children will experience the death of a parent by age 18. That equates to 1,670 children. Out of 67 Pennsylvania counties, Blair County ranks 27th with the rate of children who will lose a parent by age 18.

In Cambria County, the CBEM approximates 8.1% of children will experience the death of a parent by age 18. That equates to 2,220 children. Cambria County has the 2nd highest rate of children who will lose a parent by age 18.


Impact of Childhood Grief

The death of a parent or other important person in a child’s life has been noted to be one of the most frequently reported disruptive childhood experiences. Left unaddressed, childhood grief and trauma can lead to short- and long-term difficulties including poor academic performance, mental health issues, and early mortality. Each day, bereaved youth turn to peers and adults for assistance in managing complex grief reactions. Data from the CBEM reinforces the need for access to grief-focused education and programming that helps communities respond compassionately and confidently.


The Healing Patch Children’s Grief Program

The Healing Patch Children’s Grief Program is one of many organizations dedicated to caring for the estimated 214,000 children who will lose a parent or sibling by age 18 in Pennsylvania, according to the 2020 CBEM.

“The CBEM results further validate the need for children’s bereavement programs nationally and locally,” explains Healing Patch Coordinator Melody Ray. “We have learned that more children are grieving than previously thought. Recognizing that Cambria County has the 2nd highest childhood bereavement rate has shown us there is an even greater need for outreach and awareness of our services.”

The Healing Patch started in 2006 as a program to support grieving children and their families in West Central Pennsylvania. The Healing Patch provides this support through various ways:

  • Family sessions at centers in Altoona and Ebensburg provide a safe environment for peer support. Grieving children from preschool to age 18 can share with others who have experienced the death of a loved one and discover that they are not alone and that hope and healing are possible.
  • Peer support groups in local schools for students who may have difficulty attending a Healing Patch location.
  • Grief education in the classroom to facilitate group discussions to middle and high school students on the topics of grief/loss and death/dying.
  • Educational in-services for school personnel to learn how to recognize the signs and behaviors of grieving children and what steps and actions they can take to help make a difference.
  • Community education on topics related to loss, grief, death, and dying.
  • Lending Library of more than 400 grief-related resources available to anyone in the community.

“Programs like the Healing Patch can be a lifeline for many children and families by helping families bring their grief process to light,” Ray says. “Many participants can manage their feelings by expressing them through discussion, arts, games, and play. If these feelings are not shared and managed, unhealthy coping can manifest. Families also gain support, insight, and hope from fellow members. The Healing Patch is a prevention program that offers a road map toward healing.”

Visit Judi’s House/JAG Institute for more details about the Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model.

For more information about the Healing Patch, call 1-800-445-6262.


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