40 - The Dougy Center and Childhood Bereavement: An Interview With Dr. Donna Schuurman

In today’s podcast I interview Dr. Donna Shuurman, the senior director of advocacy and education for the Dougy Center: The National Grief Center for Children and Families. Dr. Shuurman also served as Executive Director of the Dougy center for approximately 25 years and was instrumental in growing and shaping the organization into the amazing resource it is today. The Dougy center is a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon, and their mission is to provide grief support in a safe place where children, teens, young adults, and their families can share their experiences before and after a death. The Dougy center also provides support and training locally, nationally, and internationally to individuals and organizations seeking to assist children who are grieving.

In addition to her work at the Dougy Center, Dr. Schuurman is an international expert on children’s grief, and she has worked extensively with children, teens, and families in grief both after expected and unexpected loss. She has extensive experience working with families and communities after large-scale tragedies and natural disaster including the Oklahoma City bombing, Japan’s Great Hanshin Earthquake, the attacks during 9/11 and the Sandy Hook school shootings. After following Dr. Schuurman and the Dougy Center for so many years, I was excited to have an opportunity to spend time together to understand what led her to specialize in children’s bereavement, learn about her personal experiences, and provide her with the opportunity to share Dougy Center resources with this audience.

Key points:

Many adults and even professionals misunderstand the grieving experiences and needs of children and young adults which can be detrimental to their healing and physical and mental health in later life. The bereavement needs among children has become a national problem that must be understood and addressed. Thankfully, organizations such as the Dougy Center exist to provide services, training, and support for childhood bereavement.

Current estimates indicate that approximately 6 million children in the United States will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the time they are 18 years of age. This means that roughly 1 out of every 12 children will experience a death in their nuclear family of parents and siblings. By age 25, this number more than doubles to 14.7 million children and youth who will experience the death of a parent or sibling. These numbers come from the Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model, a tool that has been developed by Judi’s House and the JAG Institute, in partnership with the New York Life Foundation, that approximates rates of U.S. children and youth who will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the time they reach adulthood. This model can also estimate loss by geographic regions and among different ethnic groups. For more information on this model including downloadable resources please visit www.judishouse.org.

The death of an immediate family member in a young person’s life is one of the most commonly reported difficult childhood experiences. When not addressed, childhood grief and trauma can cause poor performance in school, mental health problems and even early mortality. Grief support and other appropriate services can decrease the risk for future problems and increase healthy adaptation and healing.

Dr. Shuurman’s advice to families with grieving children was to get support. Even if you reside outside the Portland area, the Dougy Center website has a wealth of resources including their searchable World-Wide directory which lists organizations and grief groups including those trained by the Dougy Center. There are also online resources and worksheets for kids, teens, young adults, parents and caregivers, schools, communities, and resources in Spanish. There is information specific to relationship losses including siblings, parents, grandparents as well as information specific to how a loved one died for example death from COVID, suicide, homicide, accidents, and there are support materials for families who have loved ones who are in the process of dying. 

If you want an opportunity to connect with Dr. Donna Shuurman, please join our Facebook group “Talking about the Podcast Untethered with Dr. Levin.” The Facebook group includes a direct link to their podcast, Dr. Shuurman’s biography and the of course information about the Dougy Center.


50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.