Parental bereavement leave: 'Two weeks never going to be enough time to grieve a child but it will help'

Yahoo Style UK
Parents who lose a child will soon be entitled to two weeks paid bereavement leave [Photo: Getty]
Parents who lose a child will soon be entitled to two weeks paid bereavement leave [Photo: Getty]

Can you imagine going through the pain of losing your child, then having to go back to work just three days later?

Believe it or not, there is currently no automatic right to paid time off for bereavement, even if you’re a parent who has just lost their son or daughter.

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But, all that is about to change as parents who suffer the loss of a child under the age of 18 will soon be entitled to two weeks’ statutory paid leave from work.

The new legal right, which comes into force from April, will be known as Jack’s Law, in memory of Jack Herd. Jack’s mum Lucy has been campaigning on the issue since her 23-month-old son Jack drowned in a pond in 2010.

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When she was going through her own heartbreaking loss, Lucy was shocked to learn the law only allowed Jack’s father three days off work to grieve, one of which had to be the funeral.

So, she set about trying to change things so that other parents could be given the time they need to grieve without suffering financially.

Sadly the law change has come too late for Dawn Allen, 42 and her husband Mark, 41, whose son, Henry died from neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer, at the age of just four.

Dawn tells Yahoo UK that the law would have made a massive difference to the couple both financially and emotionally when they lost their son in October 2013.

Henry Allen was diagnosed with High Risk Neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer that affects nerve tissue [Photo: Supplied by Dawn Allen]
Henry Allen was diagnosed with High Risk Neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer that affects nerve tissue [Photo: Supplied by Dawn Allen]

While Dawn had left her job to care for Henry during his treatment, her husband Mark had to go straight back to work following the death of their son, who Dawn describes as her ‘superhero’.

“Jack’s law really would have helped us when Henry died,” she says. “It would have lifted a bit of weight for us.”

“The financial impact on us was massive,” Dawn continues. “We had family paying our mortgage to try and keep our house, friends and family leaving dinners on our doorsteps, but we wouldn’t have had anything otherwise.”

The couple worried that if Mark didn’t go straight back to work then he might lose his job, which would have made their financial situation even more difficult.

“Our home was our sanctuary and if we’d lost it we’d have lost Henry’s memories,” she says.

“Sadly, I do know a lot of parents who have actually lost their home after losing a child and that’s a horrific reality of child loss in the UK.”

Unsurprisingly, Dawn describes the experience of losing her son as “horrific”, and says the process was made all the more difficult after Mark’s return to employment.

“I didn’t want Mark to go back to work when Henry passed away because I needed that security of him being there,” she explains.

“I felt so alone and I don’t think that helped with our grieving process.”

Now Dawn welcomes the fact that in future, parents who lose a child will receive two weeks’ paid bereavement leave under new government rules.

“Two weeks is never going to be long enough but those two weeks will give parents some kind of breathing space. And I know that sounds silly because you feel like you’re never going to breathe again.

“I definitely think it would have helped us and relieved a bit of the pressure.”

Under the new law, parents who lose a child under the age of 18 will be able to take leave as either a single block of two weeks, or as two separate blocks of one week each across the first year after the death.

The flexibility to take the leave at a time that suits the parents is something Dawn believes will be really beneficial.

“You might not need the leave right away, but just knowing that it is there for you to take when you need it is a massive thing,” she says.

“Parents might choose to take time off to celebrate their child around their birthday or their anniversary,” she explains. “I don’t think people truly realise the impact of those dates, that are forever etched in your mind.”

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Dawn and her husband Mark welcome the new bereavement leave [Photo: Supplied by Dawn Allen]
Dawn and her husband Mark welcome the new bereavement leave [Photo: Supplied by Dawn Allen]

While Dawn believes the new law will have a huge impact on grieving families, she would like to see the government take things further.

“Jack’s law forces employers to be more supportive of bereavement within the workplace, but you can’t put a time frame on the grieving process, so more needs to be done to support employees.

“Losing a child leaves such a huge, gaping hole and two weeks, well no time, will ever be long enough, and certainly no amount of money, but it would help if employers take into consideration how the parents are feeling.”

She suggests employers could offer grieving parents additional counselling, something her and Mark benefitted from via Child Bereavement UK, a phased return to work and flexibility to take time off when grieving parents are feeling particularly low.

“Sometimes the grief comes over you like a wave and you don’t know when that is going to happen,” she explains. “You can be going along for days and weeks and everything is fine but then you hit an anniversary or birthday or something could trigger it and then it hits you.

“So that’s something employers could think about in terms of offering support.

“Maybe jobs could also be kept open for parents who do need to take time off so you don’t feel fearful that you’re going to lose your job,” she adds.

Dawn now runs a charity, The Henry Allen Trust, which helps other parents impacted by childhood cancer.

She hopes the introduction of Jack’s law will be the start of further support offered to those who sadly lose a child.

“Lucy, Jack’s mum, has been amazing in campaigning for this for a whole ten years, but now we need to support her and keep on campaigning and keep the pressure on the government.

“Because new parental bereavement is horrific and we need to be doing more to supporting those going through it.”

For bereavement support and information call Child Bereavement UK's National Helpline on 0800 02 888 40 (Monday-Friday 9am-5pm) or email support@childbereavementuk.org. You can also contact the Helpline via Live Chat (Monday 9am-5pm).  Click on the blue 'Chat with us' icon on the website www.childbereavementuk.org

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