Meg takes on child-led study to uncover the true impacts of sibling death

A woman is pictured indoors, she is smiling at the camera.

Can anyone truly understand the long and short-term impacts on a child following the death of their sibling without ever going through it themselves?

It’s this notion that led to Very Special Kids Family Support Practitioner Meg Chin embarking on her PhD When a child dies from a life-threatening condition: hearing the voices of bereaved siblings to gather evidence and research, from bereaved siblings, to better understand what exactly happens to a child in the years after their sibling’s death.

“When you look at all the literature, it’s from the adults’ perspective. Most of the limited research is from the perspective of a parent, which led me to see a real gap in lived experience evidence and research from the children themselves. To best support children who have experienced the death of a sibling we need to include them in the process of increasing our knowledge” she said.

Meg already holds a Bachelor of Science (community health) from the University of Texas, San Antonio, and a Bachelor and Master of Social Work, and is doing her PhD through the University of Melbourne.

She says she wanted to focus her research beyond the first two years of a sibling’s death.

“I’ve focused on the five to 12-year-old age group and those whose sibling died more than two years ago because we know that the grief is just as hard two to five years following the death,” she said

Meg and her colleague Angela developed and co-facilitated a bereaved sibling group designed to be flexible and responsive as it is very much led and the children in the group and their demonstrated need.

“In the beginning, it is very much about building a rapport with the children and finding out from them how they wanted it to work and the themes they want to explore. There’s a lot of play and creativity, and it’s incredible what you can uncover organically when you do it in a way that is natural to them. We created a ‘mood-map’ which is a visual way for kids to show how they’re feeling and at the beginning of the sessions it was low and by the end it was at the opposite side of the scale,” Meg said.

Meg says there is still little understanding in the community about sibling death and what it’s like to a be child when this happens, and often, people, including schools, shy away from it.

“Children learn very early on in their grief that it makes others uncomfortable if their grief is visible and describe ‘wearing a mask’ when interacting with others, which offers self-protection in environments where they don’t always feel safe to express their grief. I often wonder with children I work with what it might be like if they did not have to hide behind the mask so much” Meg said.

Which is why at the completion of her PhD, Meg is aiming to deliver resources and tools based on her data and findings to not only improve the way Very Special Kids delivers its services, but to also educate the community on sibling loss.

“I think as a society we have a lot more work to do when it comes to how we manage, and talk about, grief. I’m hoping that my findings, and outputs, will not only help children now and in the future, but anyone who is supporting a child who experiences a death” Meg said.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, Meg had to put her interviews on-hold as it’s paramount to her research that they are held face-to-face.

When they are safe to resume, Meg is welcoming further children to the study. If you would like your child to participate in this research, please contact Meg to discuss further on