A Darlington teaching assistant who completed her degree after her daughter died from a rare form of cancer is highlighting the lack of guidance in schools for pupils coping with bereavement.

Louise Welburn, who has just received the Curriculum Managers’ accolade at the Darlington College awards, wrote her dissertation on bereavement policies in schools.

It highlights the absence of guidelines for schools and colleges to provide children and staff with bereavement support, training and education.

The Northern Echo: Sophie Welburn with dad Chris mum Louise sister NiamhSophie Welburn with dad Chris mum Louise sister Niamh (Image: FAMILY)

Louise’s daughter Sophie was diagnosed in 2021 with a rare, incurable and aggressive tumour in her brain stem called a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a condition that affects between 20 and 30 children a year in the UK.

She died less than nine months later, also leaving dad Chris and sister Niamh.

“I’d started my degree in Education and Training before Sophie was diagnosed and went back to it after she died,” said Louise.

The Northern Echo: Sophie Welburn with mum Louise and dad Chris Sophie Welburn with mum Louise and dad Chris (Image: FAMILY)

“I wanted to do my research project on a topic that would be meaningful. This helped me to focus when I returned to my course. The more I researched, the more I realised very few schools have a planned, proactive response to bereavement.

“A bereavement policy would act as a reference point and guide for schools, so that nothing was missed during an emotive time. A proactive response, which includes well considered policies and training for staff, will ultimately help children through one of the most distressing situations a child can experience.

The Northern Echo: Louise Welburn with her awardLouise Welburn with her award (Image: FAMILY)

“I received vital support from counsellors at St Teresa’s Hospice. But it would be great if people knew where to go for the resources because when you need them you need them in a hurry.”

Louise said it had been an incredibly difficult year.

“But the degree gave me an outlet and a focus,” she added.

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“My Darlington College lecturer Jamie Pearson was brilliant and really supportive when I went back.”

Jamie said: “She was an excellent student. When Sophie was diagnosed with cancer and was given months to live, Louise suspended her studies so that she could entirely focus on making her last few months as magical and amazing as possible. This included moving forward her wedding date to ensure her daughter could be a part of the day.

“Louise then contacted the college asking to return to the course which in itself was incredibly courageous. She had a 100 per cent attendance and her engagement with the course was outstanding. She received 82 per cent for her research.