Open Letter to the Government: Supporting Bereaved Children

Dear UK Government,

This week I received a reply from the Ministerial and Public Communications Division. I recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Education regarding supporting children & young people struggling to navigate their grief and mental health through COVID-19. 

My letter was written as someone that has lived the experience of childhood grief and the murder of my father. It was written as someone that has struggled with their mental health as an adult. I wanted to highlight with the government that if grief and mental health isn’t properly supported during the early school years, then we will have a nation of future adults walking the streets with mental health struggles in the years to come.

My reply from the government took no ownership of this national issue.

Yesterday MP’s rejected Labour’s motion for free school meals by 322 votes to 261 with a government majority of 61. Why is it, in 2020, that we have a government that shows a lack of empathy and understanding towards the children of this country? Why is it that we are unable to use the forecasted £340 million a year generated in revenue from the tax on sugary drinks to support those families facing food insecurity? The lack of support for the young people of this country is wrong, and as a father I am deeply worried for their future.

During COVID-19, children are now expected to return to school after a loved one has died, with little or no bereavement support available. In my opinion, schools are now having to operate with the added pressure to meet educational expectations and, in turn, are now unable to offer the vital bereavement or mental health support. Bereaved children and young people are now expected to navigate their way through the added pressures of social media, body confidence, school, and now the impact of COVID-19 has instilled a feeling of anxiety and depression. Charities are struggling to offer face-to-face bereavement support and we need to teach all young people how to channel their feelings for the good of their future.

I believe the power of creativity is a positive tool when expressing feelings. Whether its music, writing or drawing, simply getting strong emotions out is a powerful process when helping young people with their grief and mental health. Comments by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, regarding musicians and other people that work in the arts might need to retrain, couldn’t be further from the truth. Music & the arts help children, young people and adults to heal, and we need these now more than ever. 

There are fantastic charities available for schools across the country e.g. Winston’s Wish, Grief Encounter, Cruse, Child Bereavement UK and Mosaic, but with schools funding cut to support this subject, children are now expected to navigate their grief and mental health alone. I want them to know that they’re not alone, and that we as a country are with them every step of their grief journey.

From my personal experience, grief is not something that leaves you after two-years. Grief is a constant that changes you as a person and is with you throughout your school years. The impact of grief at an early age can stay with a child for the rest of their lives, but it shouldn’t affect their mental health. I want all children and young people to know that through this life-changing time, you can go on to achieve good things in life. This is the message that we need to teach in all schools.

We need the government to offer a funding package so that children can have access to resources that support their mental health and wellbeing. We need the government to introduce the subject of grief and mental health into the curriculum. We need the government to care about the future of the children of this country.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Lemon

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