Death of a parent can impact a child’s educational performance

The loss of a parent as a child is a traumatic experience. Exposure to trauma can impact a variety of outcomes. A report examines whether parental loss can adversely affect a child’s performance in school.

The death of a parent in childhood is an incredibly difficult period for children. With many children losing parents as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, an understanding of how the experience can lead to a variety of adverse outcomes is important. Using data collected prepandemic, an investigation assessed whether parental death was tied to adverse school outcomes, after considering familial confounders.1

The investigators used Swedish national register-based longitudinal data that included linking between family members to create their population-based sibling cohort study. The data were collected from January 1990 to December 2016 and included all children who had been born between 1991 and 2000 who had lived in Sweden before reaching their 17th birthday. The main outcomes included average school grades and whether a child ineligible to attend upper secondary education after the completion of compulsory school at ages 15 to 16 years.

Children who had lost a parent were found to have lower average grades (adjusted β coefficient, −0.19; 95% CI, −0.21 to −0.18; P < .001) and a higher risk of being ineligible for upper secondary education adjusted risk ratio, 1.36; 95% CI, 1.32-1.41; P < .001) when compared to children who had not lost a parent. In the within-sibling comparisons, the investigators found that those who experienced parental death before completing their compulsory education was still linked to lower average school grades (−0.06; 95% CI, −0.10 to −0.01; P = .02). However, there was no link to ineligibility from upper secondary education (adjusted risk ratio, 1.07; 95% CI, 0.93-1.23; P = .34). Furthermore, the loss of a parent at a younger age was tied to lower grades within a family, independent of birth order.

The investigators concluded that the death of a parent in childhood was linked to lower school grades, following adjustment for familial confounders when looking at siblings. They suggested deploying additional educational support for affected children could lead to improved outcomes and reduce the risk of a negative impact on the child’s life-long socioeconomic standing.

Reference

1. Liu C, Grotta A, Hiyoshi A, Berg L, Rostila M. School outcomes among children following death of a parent. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(4):e223842. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.3842