Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Social Work

Degree Program

Social Work, PhD

Committee Chair

Head, Barbara

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Washington, Karla

Committee Member

Ferreira, Sandra

Committee Member

Huber, Ruth

Committee Member

Sprang, Ginny


Bereavement in children; Children and death; Brothers and sisters--Death


The loss of a sibling can be devastating to children, especially for children ages 7-12, who are at a critical juncture in their development. The loss can impede their development if their bereavement is not effectively addressed. For this reason, this dissertation evaluated four theoretical frameworks to provide a foundation for bereavement support for children: Assumptive World Theory, Dual Process Model, Meaning Reconstruction Theory, and Tasks of Mourning. Developmental theories and considerations were explored to gain knowledge of children’s levels of understanding, processing, and coping. Method: This study utilized a sample of five children ages 7-12 who had survived the death of a sibling; five parental participants. The study employed phenomenological and photo-elicitation methods to gain an in-depth understanding of the experiences these children during bereavement. To articulate the children’s experiences, data were gathered from the children’s and parents’ perspectives. The participants provided a pictorial account of the children’s experiences of their loss as well as a verbal account of their experiences.Results: Data were transcribed and analyzed utilizing a 13-step process following protocols of phenomenological literature. Results identified 10 general and 3 unique themes. These themes identified areas that need additional attention from professionals when working with bereaved siblings. One finding is that current theoretical frameworks do not fully capture the bereaved experiences of these children. This study offers insight for future development, and urges that careful consideration should be given to bereaved siblings. Conclusion: The approach provided a rich and in-depth account of a sensitive topic that allowed children’s experiences to be better understood. The study revealed that children’s experiences of surviving the death of a sibling produces strong expression of emotions, processing of grief reactions, commemoration of life, and reinvestment in life as part of their bereavement experiences. From these experiences, recommendations are made to better equip professionals to work with bereaved siblings. For example, these children identified the theme, Expression of grief, as a key element to their progress, and a recommendation was made to provide an outlet for children to effectively express their grief (e.g. support groups, counseling, art activities, or talking with parents).