Understanding Childhood Grief in the U.S.
Childhood bereavement is a public health issue that has long been overlooked. The death of a parent or other important person in a child’s life has been noted to be one of the most commonly reported and disruptive Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). However, the prevalence of childhood bereavement is not well understood. Previous efforts to estimate childhood bereavement prevalence rates have been hindered by methodological, reporting, and data source limitations.
The Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM) is a quantitative statistical tool developed by Judi's House/JAG Institute that uses population metrics to approximate prevalence rates of U.S. children and youth who will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the time they reach adulthood. This accessible resource can be utilized to improve public awareness about the magnitude of childhood bereavement, conduct community-level assessments to identify service needs, better evaluate the social impact of unaddressed grief, and ultimately, contribute to improved public health outcomes.
Childhood Bereavement in the U.S.
An estimated 1 out of 15 children in the U.S. will experience the death of a parent or sibling before they reach the age of 18. Over 4.8 million youth are bereaved, and the number more than doubles by age 25, to 12.7 million. Childhood bereavement is a prevalent and critical public health issue that can have a profound impact on future wellbeing.
The CBEM estimates prevalence rates for children who will experience the death of a parent and/or sibling by the time they reach adulthood. The model aggregates data from 2012 to 2016 and is updated annually using national and regional vital statistics. View Methodology and Sources for more information.
Childhood Bereavement: The Cost of Inaction
Experiencing a significant death loss during childhood often results in profound stress and adversity and, without appropriate support, can derail a child’s development. For the millions of youth who are bereaved, access to comprehensive grief-focused, trauma-informed care and resources is essential.
Now is the time for researchers, practitioners, educators, policy makers, and advocates to unite in support of these children and their families. By investing in awareness and prevention, we can create social change that ensures a compassionate response to all grieving children and promotes healthy growth.
Using the CBEM to Elevate the Conversation about Childhood Bereavement
Judi's House/JAG Institute has created a toolkit to help others use the information from the CBEM to improve public awareness about the magnitude of childhood bereavement. Explore the CBEM Action Plan Toolkit and download customizable materials including sample newsletter content, social media posts, and graphics for your state.
Leading Causes of Death
No child expects to experience the loss of their parent or sibling, even when the death is due to anticipated causes such as chronic or terminal illness. In addition to mourning an important figure in their life, a child is often left grappling with the circumstances or events surrounding the death. A growing body of research demonstrates that for children, many types of death can lead to trauma reactions, regardless of the level of violence or suddenness associated with the cause.
Variation in Childhood Bereavement by State
Childhood bereavement varies greatly across the nation. West Virginia has the highest concentration of bereaved children with a rate of 11.4%, while Minnesota ranks lowest with a rate of only 5.0%.
Childhood Bereavement in Colorado
According to CBEM estimates, 1 in 17 children in Colorado will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18. While this is slightly lower than the national average, there are still over 73,000 youth coping with loss in our community. Use the U.S. map above to find data for your state and view the CBEM Action Plan Toolkit for customized content to share with your community.
Pathfinders: Promoting healthy adjustment in bereaved children and families, Death Studies, 42:3, 134-142. Brook Griese, Michaeleen Burns & Samantha A. Farro
Comprehensive grief care for children and families: Policy and practice implications. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 87(5), 540-548. Griese, B., Burns, M.R., Farro, S.A., Silvern, L., & Talmi, A.
The Judi’s House/JAG Institute Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM) has been generously supported by the New York Life Foundation.