Available Support for Children’s Funerals

Freeman Brothers has been carrying out funerals in Sussex and Surrey since 1855. As long-established as Funeral Directors, we understand the common questions people have around funerals. After years of service to our local communities, we feel part of our role is to communicate key issues encountered by the bereaved people who we assist in […]

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Freeman Brothers has been carrying out funerals in Sussex and Surrey since 1855. As long-established as Funeral Directors, we understand the common questions people have around funerals. After years of service to our local communities, we feel part of our role is to communicate key issues encountered by the bereaved people who we assist in their time of need.

Today, we are discussing the sensitive subject of children’s funerals through the lens of relatively recent changes to our country’s laws. In April 2020, ‘Jack’s Law’ came into effect. The Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill 2018 means that all employees, regardless of length of service, have a right to take time off if a ‘dependant’ dies. It was introduced following a campaign by Lucy Herd, whose son Jack drowned, aged 23 months, in 2010. This followed the introduction of the Children’s Funeral Fund in July 2019 after a 30-year campaign for such a fund by MP Carolyn Harris, following the death of her own son. Freeman Brothers welcomed the introduction of these laws which recognise that the loss of a child often has a profound impact.

Like many funeral directors, we had always offered children’s funerals at no cost, simply encouraging families bereaved of a child to try to consider what they wanted the funeral to look like, and providing our part of those services accordingly. Peter Freeman, our Proprietor, always felt that any parent who suffered the death of a young child would be experiencing such a difficult time that alleviating the potentially unexpected costs of the funeral would be the least we could do. Some other firms offered a simple package which they provided for free, with charges only for optional extras, and some firms did levy full charges.

Prior to the introduction of the Children’s Funeral Fund, a child’s funeral may have had costs, though. Some crematoriums charge for children’s cremations. Burial authorities may not charge for the burial itself, but might charge for the purchase of the plot (if applicable). A Doctor could charge for the completion of cremation papers, although they quite often don’t for children. A non-religious funeral would often be taken by a Civil Celebrant, usually a self-employed person- no-one can be in more than one place at once so officiating at a child’s funeral for free might be at the expense of paid work- although most still do not charge. 

The Children’s Funeral Fund was designed to remove this financial burden by covering costs for the funeral of any child who dies before their 18th birthday, including babies who are stillborn after 24 weeks’ gestation. Some of the items it covers are:

 -the cost of a coffin, up to £300.00; 

-the fees for completion of cremation papers; 

-the fee for a gravedigger; 

-the cost of removing and re-fixing a headstone; 

-crematorium fees; 

-a cemetery fee; 

-fees levied to buy an exclusive right of burial.

 There is no allowance for work on a headstone (other than removing it from an existing grave and replacing it afterwards). Often, a family chooses to bury someone (child or otherwise) because of the ability to memorialise them in this way, and so the burial of a child may result in costs for monumental masonry work. We think this omission is understandable as memorial costs are so variable, but potentially problematic for anyone whose religion or customs require a burial with a headstone.

Jack’s Law is also designed to be helpful following the death of a dependent by ensuring there is time to grieve without the pressures of work. It ensures that those eligible (which is a broad criteria) are able to take two weeks off work- within the 56 weeks following the death of their child, providing they were under 18 or stillborn after 24 weeks’ gestation.

While the introduction of Jack’s Law was undoubtedly positive, it led us to consider:

1: Everyone is different 

This law recognises that a parent needs time off to grieve after the death of a child. However, no two peoples’ grief is the same and so the amount of time they will need will vary. It would be problematic if two weeks became synonymous with the ‘right’ duration, and that people either felt after that time they should be ‘better’, or if they wanted to get back into the daily routine sooner but felt this timescale implied that doing so might be ‘wrong’.

2: What about others affected? 

It may well be that it’s not only the parents are directly affected by the loss of a child. Grandparents who are involved in the care of their grandchildren and may still be working; a child could easily have siblings in full-time work. Either of these groups, and others, might benefit from time off to grieve.

3: What about other losses?

There is no provision within Jack’s Law for baby loss before 24 weeks’ gestation. This seems an omission. Additionally, the introduction of Jack’s Law in isolation, as opposed to covering bereavement generally, comes with the risk of suggesting that other losses should mean less. Most people feel the death of a child is most deeply felt. Deaths of young people are often thought to be especially tragic because of the hopes and dreams had for that child. But other bereavements will be significant too, and provision for other bereavement leave is patchy and largely down to the goodwill of the employer.

Jack’s Law is an important first step in starting conversations. We would like to see guidance for companies in developing flexible, sensitive bereavement policies and possibly more legislation on minimum allowances- just to ensure that, if nothing else, bereaved people are able to arrange and attend funerals without implications for their jobs. 

We would also like to see the government encouraging people to talk more about death, dying and bereavement. There is no guarantee that this will help when someone dies, but there is clear evidence to show that knowing someone’s wishes- and so being able to arrange an appropriate funeral- means a grief journey is less likely to be adversely affected by complicating factors such as guilt at not knowing what the right thing to do is, or worry at getting things wrong. Grief is always difficult, and anything which helps in any way is always to be welcomed. 

Both these pieces of legislation are designed to provide practical help at the most difficult of times. While we have some reservations about both, as we have expressed above, we broadly welcome the spirit in which they seek to address some of the practicalities of being bereaved of a child at a time where this is probably the most that can be done.

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Written by Abi Pattenden

Manager

April 17, 2024

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