Helping schools tackle grief

Bereavement counsellors have won high praise for their training which has given education professionals the tools to tackle grief in their school communities.

The unique six-month programme is delivered by experts at St Teresa’s Hospice and run in partnership with Darlington Borough Council’s Social Services Early Help Team.

Almost 50 delegates from the area have just been introduced to the building blocks of working with bereaved children to improve their knowledge, confidence and skills.

The programme is aimed at teachers and support staff in local schools plus early help teams and social workers supporting children and young people.

Seventy per cent of primary school communities have experienced a recent bereavement as have 70 per cent of teenagers, while one in 29 children have experienced the death of a parent or sibling. COVID has worsened the situation further and has prevented families visiting the seriously ill.

Staff are using their new-found skills back at school to increase compassion and raise levels of grief awareness at a time of increased deaths in the community from COVID. They are also helping schools shape policies around pastoral care.

Day long workshops consider:

•       Children’s concepts of loss and death including common expressions of grief

•       How different personal, social and cultural factors impact on loss

•       Talking about loss, death and bereavement with children and young people

•       Creative ways of engaging with loss, feelings and memories

•       Developing roles as a Bereavement Champion within the organisation

•       Taking care of themselves.

Each delegate receives a resource pack containing a copy of the training materials plus a specialist resource. Fifteen primary and secondary schools have taken part so far.

Workshops are followed up with a further three group supervision sessions, where staff can receive ongoing support around their practice to help them embed the training across their schools.

By the end of the programme delegates will be expected to show how they have developed their role as a Bereavement Champion and the impact this has had within their school community or team.

School starter packs contain some key therapeutic resources and the hospice team provides a termly e-bulletin which will share examples of practice developments and offer further ideas for supporting children and young people.

Home/school family liaison officer at Skerne Park Academy Paula Humphreys said: “It was absolutely fantastic. The subject of loss can obviously be very trying for professionals. Throughout the day, all of our fears around working with children on loss were targeted head on and I think I can say that we all, as a group, felt much more confident in this area. There was also lots of practical information including how we can implement our own bereavement policy in school and where to find samples.”

St Teresa’s Hospice Director of Care Services Deborah Robinson said: “This is helping to create lasting change in Darlington schools and we are asking them to share with us how the programme has made a difference to local children and young people.”

The programme is also being evaluated by an external academic in the hope that the hospice can secure funding to expand the specialist support it offers children and young people. .

“Grief affects everyone differently,” said Deborah. “Many children fair well with the support of their families and friends and schools play an important part by providing a constant in their lives. A small number need additional support which is where the hospice can help.”

“Many families have felt isolated in their grief during the pandemic and social restrictions have affected the way people mourn,” she added. “Death is part of life but in today’s world many children lack opportunities to explore their thoughts and feelings around death and dying. If we can adopt a positive approach in supporting children when a bereavement occurs, it helps to build their resilience and gives them comfort and control at a very difficult time in their life.”

She said training helped schools look at their systems and protocols ensuring the right communications were in place. “Children grieve differently and it’s a long term process,” Deborah said. “The programme is about helping children to find a place for grief in their life.”