This week is National Grief Awareness Week (NGAW), a nationwide event which aims to normalise grief and encourage people to talk about bereavement. Child bereavement UK shared statistics stating that 1 in 29, 5-16 year olds have been bereaved of a parent or sibling – that’s a child in every average school class. This highlights the need for awareness and support for bereavement within educational settings.
At the Caritas Schools’ Service, we are raising awareness of NGAW by sharing some of the fantastic work that our Counsellors and Social Workers deliver in schools to support families, children and young people (CYP) who are experiencing grief.
When a family member dies it can impact on everyone within a family in different ways. There are a number of factors that can influence thoughts and feelings around bereavement such as the stage of grief the person is experiencing, how the person died, whether this was expected or sudden, and the role this person played within the family unit.
In some situations, Caritas Schools’ Workers will provide holistic support to the whole family, whether this is in the form of:
Practical support – helping people adjust to their new roles and routines in the home.
Emotional support – offering a listening ear and signposting to relevant services for more specialist support if needed.
Financial support – enabling people to access funding and benefits that they may be entitled to, and ensuring that during this difficult time they have a safe and supportive space to ask for help.
Often providing support in this way will help CYP as they may have worries about people they live with or about their home situation. It can also provide parents and caregivers with more capacity to support others in their family unit.
Counsellors and Social Workers in the Caritas Schools’ Service also offer child led therapeutic sessions with CYP. These sessions can have structured and unstructured elements and enable CYP to express themselves and to explore difficult emotions.
Sessions can vary depending on each individual and their needs but some of the activities they may complete are art and craft activities such as memory jars/boxes or thought provoking practical activities which enable children to play and get creative. The team have access to a Caritas produced loss and bereavement work book called ‘Through The Darkness and Into The Light’; this can take CYP on a journey through their loss and workers help them to delve in to their thoughts and feelings at their own pace with support, often enabling them to become more aware of their grief and how they can live with it.
Direct therapeutic sessions can also be offered to parents of children who have experienced a bereavement or adult staff members in schools.
Caritas Schools’ Service staff are trained in the facilitation of Rainbows bereavement support. If your school is registered with Rainbowsgb the Caritas worker can support you in setting up the age related peer support programme, which helps foster emotional healing among children, young people and adults. The group has had some fantastic outcomes for CYP and they’re also able to offer advice and guidance on policies and procedures around bereavement in schools, including ‘When someone dies’ which is a practical resource to support schools review their policy and procedures.
You will find more information on the website www.rainbowsgb.org or contact Kathryn Kennedy, one of our Team Managers who is an advocate for the charity and can give you more information about Rainbows programmes.
The team can also offer bespoke group work support following a bereavement – this may happen in situations such as when a friendship group have experienced the bereavement of a peer or when siblings may benefit from some support together. Each referral to the schools’ service will be considered separately and the best form of provision put in place following assessment and discussion between the worker, school and families. Group support is often a safe environment to talk about the person who has died and to think about memories and special moments that will be important to the individuals and groups.
In some schools’ crisis support is required for CYP and staff. This may be when a staff member or student has died or there has been a serious incident that has caused fear and sadness within the school.
Caritas Schools’ Workers will offer drop in sessions to enable people to express their thoughts and feelings and they will facilitate activities to unite people and offer them some solace such as a quiet space to reflect, sharing memories or messages in a visual way such as a memory tree, and other activities to help people connect spiritually and emotionally.
The Caritas Schools’ Service have a broad range of skills and knowledge they can offer to schools in relation to loss and bereavement and above are just some of the examples of things that may be beneficial to the CYP you support.
We can also support you in developing your own school bereavement policy
There are a range of training opportunities for school staff to learn more about how to support CYP with grief through the Child Bereavement UK website https://www.childbereavementuk.org/. They also have a helpline and a live chat option to support people experiencing bereavement, the helpline is 0800 02 88840. The website and training has lots of information that looks at behavioural changes you may observe following a bereavement, and it also helps you to think about how you respond and support CYP during this challenging time.
During NGAW take some time to think about how grief impacts on children in your school is there any way you could remember any loved ones this week in an assembly, mass or vigil?
Speak to the Caritas Schools’ Service for more support or guidance on supporting bereaved pupils.