On average, 100 children experience the loss of a parent every day in the UK.
A Killing In My Family, a new Cutting Edge documentary airing on Channel 4 on Wednesday March 8th at 10pm, follows Winston’s Wish, a charity which specialises in childhood bereavement. The charity – which was founded in 1992 by clinical psychologist Julie Stokes OBE – supports children and their families after the death of a parent or sibling.
They offer support across the UK to children and families via a Freephone National Helpline and via dedicated support programmes for bereavements by different causes of deaths.
The documentary – produced by award winning production company, Dragonfly TV (Ambulance, 24 Hours in A&E, One Born Every Minute) – focuses on the charity’s murder and manslaughter support programme. In doing so, it highlights an important issue in our society; death is often a topic that we, as a community, don’t talk about, choosing to hide our feelings, rather than share those close to us.
“You’d talk about your hamster dying, so why wouldn’t you talk about someone close to you dying,” asks Sacha Richardson, the Director of Family Services at Winston’s Wish. Sacha, who has over 20 years in the childhood bereavement sector, believes that the documentary will be crucial in opening up people’s minds to talking about death.
“Conversations about death can be difficult but they are incredible important in helping children to understand and express their emotions.
“In this instance, when the bereavement has been by murder or manslaughter, conversation is particularly important so that children can understand what has happened. When there’s little information for children, they tend to fill the gaps themselves and can become confused by their grief and emotions.”
Gaining unprecedented access to the UK’s only residential weekend designed specifically for children who have been bereaved by an act of murder or manslaughter, the film follows a group of sixteen children attending with a surviving parent or guardian to face their grief and pain together with others in a similar situation.
Over the two-day programme, they are divided into two groups; one for children and one for adults, with support from Winston’s Wish staff and volunteers to help them to cope with their grief. For the children, it is a chance to understand their loss and learn to cope with their sometimes difficult feelings.
It can be difficult for children to understand what has happened to them. Not only do they have to cope with a sudden, unexpected death, but they also have to deal with the way their loved one has died. With a lack of understanding of the circumstances around their death, children can often make their own story and fill in the gaps where information is not known. Winston’s Wish helps the children to own what has happened to them, an important step in coming to terms with their grief.
For the adults at the group, it is useful for them to meet others who are going through a similar situation. As well as dealing with their own grief, the adults are trying to support young children. For some, they may seem all alone, but the weekend gives them unique peer support, as well as advice and guidance from the charity’s practitioners.
The film itself is sensitively made, with moments of sadness, hope and sometimes humour. The children’s innocence juxtaposed with their traumatic stories makes for touching viewing.
During the film, one child asks a member of the Winston’s Wish team whether killing is spelt with a ‘kicking k’ or a ‘curly c’. It is moments like these, when a child is describing something traumatic in such an innocent way, that touch you the most.
A Killing In My Family is an important step in initiating the conversation about death and bereavement. For some, it may be difficult to watch and it may open up feelings of grief themselves.
Many adults who were bereaved as children will not have received the support they needed and the film will resonate with the.
If anyone is affected by the issues in the documentary, the Winston’s Wish staff are available to provide advice and support for anyone affected by what they have seen in the programme.
Their National Helpline is free-to-call, Monday – Friday, 9am-5pm. On the night of transmission, the helpline is open for extended hours, from 10pm – 12am.
If you are affected by the issues in A Killing In My Family, the Winston’s Wish helpline is free-to-call for support, advice and guidance on 08088 020 021, Monday – Friday 9 am – 5pm. To support Winston’s Wish and their work with bereaved children, visit http://www.winstonswish.org.uk/donate-online/.
Cutting Edge: A Killing In My Family, Channel 4, Wednesday 8th March 22:00
Words by HQ