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The charity, which helps local people face incurable illness and bereavement, already offers a free bereavement for all service to adults aged 18 and over in the area who are grieving the death of a loved one, irrespective of the cause or place of death.
St Helena will provide its bereavement service to children and families primarily face to face, with some support being offered via video consultation for older teenagers where appropriate.
Lisa Parrish, director of care at St Helena, said:
“We are delighted we are able to provide this vital service free of charge for children and young people for the next four years following receiving funding from the CCG.
“Counselling and support to help children and young people cope after the death of a loved one is so vital but sadly there has been no free local bereavement support for children for the last couple of years.
“Research shows people who suffer bereavement at a young age are at a higher risk of physical and mental health illnesses. Many children experiencing anxiety following a death, they are at an increased risk of suffering with depression and there is growing evidence of a ‘late effect’ of bereavement in childhood, with differences between them and their peers more apparent two years after the death than in the early months.
“Bereaved children are also more likely to have difficulties at school arising from low concentration, lack of interest or bullying. They also have lower average exam scores than their peers and are more likely to be unemployed at 30. The death of a parent by the age of 26 also increases the risk of a criminal conviction for a violent offence.
“Whist we cannot protect children from loss, our bereavement service can help them to process their grief and pain, share their feelings, and hopefully help them to live a full life after bereavement.”
Sarah Rogers, from Clacton-on-Sea, praised the support her five year old son, Jude, received after his Nana Sharon died at the hospice in January. She said:
“It can only be a good thing to extend this support to all children and young people who are grieving. It’s amazing, they’ve done wonders with Jude. I’m so pleased other children will now have the chance to talk to someone too.
“The sessions with Jude have been absolutely amazing. The change in him is incredible for a little child who really struggled to say how he was feeling. He's such a different boy. He was very angry, very scared and not Jude at all, but the last few weeks he’s himself again. Now he will actually say ‘I would like to talk to someone about how I'm feeling’, and for a 5 year old, that's quite a big thing.
“It's so lovely having people that understand each child; the first time meeting him, they knew exactly what to say and how to say it to him. I think that's the blessing of it, the counsellors see children and young people of all ages and they are able to adapt to each child and how each child works.
“Every week they give me a play by play of what he's done in a session, and the things they do have changed how I parent as well because it's daunting when someone dies; you don't really know what to do for yourself and what to say to make yourself feel better but when you've got little ones involved as well, it's really, really hard. It's helping educate me to be a better parent in helping Jude to go through that and know in the long run we can do these things for him too.”
Jude, who received bereavement counselling with St Helena after his Nana Sharon died, with his mum Sarah Rogers and sister Evie.
The family recently went on a caravan holiday for the first time without Sharon, and while there Jude used a technique he had picked up from his bereavement support session using a little worry person which he had made. Sarah explained:
“Usually he’d have an ice cream with Nana, but this time we weren’t sure he would because it's a special thing between him and my mum. He really didn't want to at first and then he told his worry person and he said he felt better now. Then we were walking past the ice cream place and he got his little worry person out and he said ‘should we?’ And then he said, ‘yes, I’ve got my worry person, let's have a Nana ice cream’. So he had his little worry person in his pocket and he had his ice cream.
“It was amazing, and you would think it's just something he's made but oh my goodness, does it give him courage and strength! He said after that he would like to tell his counsellor all about it; he knows that support is there, which is amazing.”
Whether someone has been bereaved by an accident, suicide, Covid-19, an incurable or progressive illness or the stillbirth or death of a child, St Helena can help, and the bereavement does not have to be recent to receive support.
Referrals for bereavement support for under 18 year olds can be made by the parent or guardian, a healthcare professional, or by the child if competent to do so. For over 18’s, referrals can be made by the individual, or with their consent, a family member or healthcare professional. To make a referral, please visit www.sthelena.org.uk/bereavement
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