Staff training in bereavement improves knowledge but impact on practice unknown


Staff supporting people with learning disabilities may find it extremely difficult to deal with bereavement in somebody they support. It is important to recognise that everybody has the right to grieve when they lose somebody they cared for, and this is just as true for people with learning disabilities.

The researchers in this study recognised that people with learning disabilities however, may need additional support to make sense of the feelings and to understand what is happening at a difficult time. They also recognised that despite a number of initiatives for training and support (see for example ‘Beareavement and Learning Disabilities’) support staff may not be confident about what to do to provide the best support and of course, to deal with their own feelings.

The researchers set out to look at the impact of a one day training course for support staff, to see whether or not it improved their knowledge about bereavement and grief in people with a learning disability.

They used a questionnaire based mixed design for the study, working with forty-eight support staff. These staff were randomly assigned to one of two equal groups.

As the researchers delivered the training to group two after a delay, this allowed them to use the second group as a control group for the first, but also eventually to receive the training as well. They made a number of comparisons between the two groups and indeed within the two groups to see what impact the training had.

They found that the one day course did significantly improve staff knowledge about grief and bereavement. However, the response rate to the questionnaire onemonth post training was too small to enable the researchers to take a view on how well people had retained that knowledge.

The conclusion the authors can draw therefore is that the short training course did significantly increase staff knowledge about grief and bereavement in people with learning disabilities, but they are not able to take a view about how successful it was in enabling staff to retain the knowledge, or at this stage to comment on the impact of practice.

They do however discuss some of the ethical implications of the work and make suggestions for further research.
The impact of staff training on the knowledge of support staff in relation to bereavement and people with an intellectual disability, Watters, L.  et al., in British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40: 194–200

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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