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

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


Alexandra Wray

Benjamin Pickwell-Smith

Sophie Pask

Barry Wright

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Dr Jason Boland
Senior Clinical Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Palliative Medicine


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


Wray, A., Pickwell-Smith, B., Greenley, S., Pask, S., Bamidele, O., Wright, B., …Boland, J. W. (2022). Parental death: a systematic review of support experiences and needs of children and parent survivors. BMJ supportive & palliative care,

Journal Article Type Review
Acceptance Date Oct 27, 2022
Online Publication Date Nov 16, 2022
Publication Date Nov 16, 2022
Deposit Date Nov 20, 2022
Publicly Available Date Nov 21, 2022
Journal BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care
Print ISSN 2045-435X
Electronic ISSN 2045-4368
Publisher BMJ Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
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© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2022. Re-use permitted under CC BY. Published by BMJ.
This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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