In June of this year, I gave a speech on bereavement support for young people at the annual joint Cabinet meeting between the Scottish Government and Children and Young People. This is a topic which is really close to my heart, having lost my mum when I was 17 it was an honour to be able to speak on this topic which affects so many young people in Scotland.
I have been campaigning on this issue since I passed a Motion on the topic at SYP’s 78th National Sitting. I launched my campaign ‘Grieving and Growing’ during Children’s National Grief Awareness week in November 2021. During the Christmas period I ran a ’12 Days of Self Care’ to support others suffering loss, as this can be a particularly challenging time. I have worked with partners to design a training session for youth workers supporting young people with YouthLink Scotland’s No Knifes, Better Lives campaign in partnership with Cruse Bereavement Scotland. I have also done a lot of work with ‘It’s Time’, who are a charity working to support young people who have lost parents. I was featured on their web series ‘growing through grief’ and took part in their ‘walk in memory’ 2023, raising over £700 for the charity.
At the beginning of my speech to the Scottish Cabinet, I shared some of my personal story and then went on to say:
Before I experienced bereavement myself, I had assumed that good quality support for young people who had suffered a loss like I had would be in place. But, as I found out, bereavement support for young people rarely exists at all, and when it does exist, it is inadequate and doesn’t meet our needs. That means that the 4,700 children in Scotland who lose a parent each year are usually left with nowhere to turn at a time when we are most in need.
That is why, in November of last year, I decided to start a campaign called Grieving and Growing, which is dedicated to my mum. I did this because, when my mum died, I felt alone and didn’t know where to turn for support. I don’t think any young person should have to feel like I did at one of the hardest times in their lives.
I carried out a consultation with other young people who have suffered bereavement. I asked how they think bereavement support should look and got responses like ‘sympathetic’, ‘compassionate’ and ‘accessible’. But when I asked how they think the current support is young people described it as ‘inconsistent’, ‘cold’ and ‘judgemental’.
One of the main aims of my campaign is to call for bereavement support to be considered a human right, available and accessible for all who need it. Losing someone at any point in your life is an extremely difficult thing to go through, this is exasperated when you’re a young person who is still growing and developing.
Many young people, like myself, who experience grief have also been young carers which makes our needs even more complex. The support needed isn’t just emotional, as often young people need to deal with ‘death admin’ which are things like funerals and financial arrangements. One way of achieving this could be to ensure it is embedded into wider priorities such as the National Performance Framework, which is a call made by Includem in a report funded by this Government in September 2022.
Another area where I think much more needs to be done is in education. Death and grief is something that makes people uncomfortable to talk about. And when people feel uncomfortable, they often avoid a subject altogether. I know from my own experience just how isolating that can be. So, I feel there needs to be education and training on this subject, for everyone working in an education setting.
I also think we need to do more at a societal level to tackle the taboo around death. One way of doing this would be to involve young people like me who have experienced bereavement to be part of a wider public awareness campaign.
Thank you for listening to me today. As you listened to what I have said, I hope you realise that I am not a product of the 806 days of grief I have experienced so far since my Mum died.
But I am the person I am because of 17 years of love from my Mum, Anne.
My Mum was a strong, brave and resilient woman who taught me to speak up when I believed in something.
I believe that access to support for bereavement should be the right of every child and young person in Scotland, and I hope you will work with me to deliver that.