Grief Centre Research

Original & Collaborative Research

Supporting Children and Youth Grieving a Substance-Related Death

In late 2018, Dr. Jay Children’s Grief Centre received funding from the Toronto Urban Health Fund to partner with various community organizations and create resources that support families, children and youth grieving a substance-related death. We spoke to caregivers and youth with lived experience and service providers working alongside families to ensure that what we created provided families with the information they needed to support their children and teens. We created a webinar and resource package for families to watch and download. We also hope to create new resources on this topic, so stay tuned for updates. We would like to thank our funder, The Toronto Urban Health Fund, for their support of this project.

Toronto Public Health


  • Click here to access our newest resources and learn more about the project.


Parents’ and Caregivers’ Concerns Survey

We surveyed parents and caregivers of children and youth who had experienced the illness, dying or death of a family member. We asked them, “how concerned are you?” about a list of common issues.

Overall, we found that parents’ and caregivers’ concerns could not be predicted by their own or the child’s gender, the child’s age, the type of illness or death, or how much time had passed since the death had occurred. Instead, each person’s experience and concerns were uniquely shaped by their life experiences and relationships with the children and youth, and with the person who was ill, dying, or who had died. There is no right or wrong way to feel, and no right or wrong amount of concern.

We did, however, notice that some concerns about the child or youth were slightly lower for parents than they were for other caregivers, like aunts, uncles and grandparents. These caregivers were no more concerned about their own caregiving, but were a bit more concerned about the child or youth’s understanding or grief, perhaps because they had not spent quite as much time with the children as their parents had.

No matter what your relationship is to the child who is grieving, or how concerned you are, we hope we can help. We have pulled together some information and ideas from families and our team, as well as some of our own and other agencies’ resources that we hope will be helpful for parents who share any of these concerns.

We would like to thank our funder, Women’s College Hospital’s Women’s Xchange for their support of this study. We would also like to thank our collaborator, The Nanny Angel Network.

Women's Xchange



Siblings experiences when a child is dying

We interviewed siblings between the ages of 8-19 years old, who had a brother or sister who was receiving palliative care. Our longitudinal study involved repeated interviews to help us understand how siblings’ experienced their time and relationships with the child who was ill, as well as with their parents and their peers, and how these experiences changed over time. These siblings’ stories taught us that each of those relationships were both sources of support, comfort and that they were very meaningful. However, at the same time, these relationships were also sources of strain as the ill child’s needs and siblings’ responsibilities increased over time, and their feelings of missing time with their friends and family grew. These siblings’ insights suggest important ways that the adults in their lives can validate and support them as they face these challenges, and help siblings to make the most of the time they enjoy together with loved ones.

We would like to thank our funders and collaborators: The Innovation Fund in Children’s Palliative Care Research/SickKids Foundation, and the Team for Research in Adolescent and Childhood Palliation and Grief Team.

Sasha Bella FundSick Kids



Communicating with dying children who have trouble speaking

We interviewed bereaved parents whose 8-14 year old children died because of a brain tumour that made it difficult for them to communicate when they were dying. Interviews explored parents’ perspectives of: the communicative needs and abilities of dying children; creative communication strategies they used; and topics that were most important for families to discuss with their children. Parents’ stories highlighted how important communication was for maintaining relationships and intimate connections during the end of their children’s lives. Although our original goal was to design a tool or an “app” to communicate for the child, parents taught us that the simple strategies they used to communicate without technology were better for maintaining their connections and relationships. Based on that, we developed a handbook to share strategies, insights and advice from these parents, with others in similar situations.

This project was undertaken by SickKids Hospital, funded by Brainchild and conducted by a member of our clinical and research team



Parent-child communication when a child has a serious illness

We interviewed children between the ages of 7-14 years old and their parents about their experiences of childhood brain tumors, and how they communicated about their personal and shared experiences. Children and parents’ stories reflected grief and uncertainty, as well as strategies they used to maintain a positive outlook and a sense of normalcy, to cope and adapt to the struggles and changes in their lives. Parents and children communicated to express their grief and faith, to cope and to align themselves in relation to the illness. They described some “nice conversations” about very difficult topics, highlighting that even emotional or challenging discussions can have very positive effects for families, in helping them to have a shared understanding, feeling united in their experience, and preparing for what lies ahead.

This project was conducted by a member of our clinical and research team at the University of Guelph, through SickKids Hospital. It was generously funded by Brainchild.”




Talking with Young People about Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID)

In late 2017, Dr. Jay Children’s Grief Centre received funds from the Golda Fine Foundation to facilitate research into Medical Assistance in Dying, specifically the creation of resources that support children and youth to understand more about the process. We brought together a national team of healthcare providers and other professionals working in MAID, children’s grief counsellors and family members to create a list of questions that caregivers might have about talking to children and youth. Together, we constructed responses to these questions and filmed short clips from different perspectives to guide the conversation. We would like to thank our funder, the Golda Fine Memorial Academic Award  and our collaborators for their support of this initiative.

Sinai Health System Canadian Virtual Hospice

Andrea Warnick Consulting


  • Click here to access this resource and learn more about the project.