When Does a Child Need Professional Help?

Usually, natural support networks such as friends, family, school and community can provide the support to help a child deal with the death of someone close. However, sometimes, children need to talk to a professional. Some key behaviours indicate this:

  • Persistent anxiety.
  • Persistent yearning/longing for the deceased.
  • On-going aggression.
  • Social withdrawal, lack of interest in friends and activities.
  • Self-blame or guilt about the death, believing they were at fault through something they said, have done or thought.
  • Self-destructive behaviour, hurting themselves, or expressing a desire to die or to be with the person who has died is a good indicator that professional support is needed.

Such behaviours indicate complicated grieving which requires specialised intervention. If you are concerned about your child, seek support from your GP, a member of the hospital or hospice team, or some other professional to assist you with the next steps.

Because the area of counselling is not standardised in Ireland, ICBN is not in a position to ‘endorse’ any individuals. Bereavement services in Ireland are provided through voluntary, religious and statutory organisations and by individual practitioners. There is a large variation in service delivery and costs.

Organisations who receive funding from Tusla – the Child & Family Agency may offer services at a more affordable rate: www.tusla.ie/uploads/content/Organisations_in_receipt_of_Counselling_Funding_2016.pdf

If you have concerns that a bereaved child needs external support consider the following:

  • Have you given a reasonable amount of time to allow the child process grief normally?
  • Do their needs and concerns match those indicated as ‘red flags’?
  • Are their needs are similar to Level 2 or above on the ICBN Bereavement Care Pyramid?


Sourcing therapy

  • Therapists should be linked to a reputable accrediting body such as the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP), established in 1981 to identify, develop and maintain professional standards of excellence in counselling and psychotherapy.
  • If you are looking for a therapist, identify one experienced in helping children around grief/bereavement. Ask them about their knowledge of contemporary understanding of children’s grief and appropriate interventions.
  • Talk to them in person (ideally meet them) to get a feel for how they work and their approach. Take time to be happy that this approach will suit your child/family.
  • A therapist should provide you with clear, accurate and up-to-date written information outlining their services and identifying the level(s) of specific need they can meet.
  • Ask how they plan to assess your child’s bereavement intervention needs to ensure that the service being offered is the most appropriate at that time.
  • Ask how they provide feedback to you; about confidentiality; and how they adhere to Children First Act 2015 and National Child Protection Guidelines.
  • www.iacp.ie (see above).
  • www.playtherapy.ie Play Therapy Ireland (PTIrl) is a not for profit organisation dedicated to promoting the use of play and creative arts therapies as ways of enabling children to reach their full potential.
  • www.psychologicalsociety.ie The Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) is the learned and professional body for psychology and psychologists in the Republic of Ireland.

Please see our Pyramid for a more in-depth understanding of the needs of bereaved children.