Today is the beginning of Children’s Grief Awareness Week UK (16th-22nd November 2017) with the focus on acknowledging the painful impact the death of a loved one has on a child and giving an opportunity to make sure the children receive the support they need. #YoureNotAlone.
Bereaved Children Support York was created nearly exactly 18 months ago, for that reason. So that bereaved children could come together and realise they are not alone and that other children have experienced a similar loss. Our aim is to support children and their families living in the York area, so they are better able to cope with the impact of bereavement on their lives. We do this in 3 ways.
1. Monthly Peer support Drop-in sessions
This is how it all started, with toys, crafts and resources and an opportunity for bereaved children and families to come together in a relaxed and friendly environment knowing that everyone there has experienced something similar, because losing a significant person in your life, especially as a child, can be incredibly isolating.
This year we have moved to a bigger venue, with better facilities and more space for the children to play. Oh and it has an Xbox! This has definitely meant that the children are interacting much more and have been able to be more creative in their play.
2. Therapeutic Support
We are delighted that we are now able to offer one to one therapeutic support provided by experienced Bereavement Practitioners for those children who need it. Not every child who has been bereaved needs additional help outside their existing support network, but some do and we want to be able to offer this service. This is running as a pilot project initially to gauge demand, but we anticipate this will be high and the service will expand according. Anyone can refer a child, but we do ask that parental consent be obtained. (Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information).
We also wanted to be able to offer training for schools on how to best support the bereaved children in their care. We know from the families we have met that some schools do a fantastic job in supporting their bereaved children, but others not so much. We hosted our first training day in October led by a great facilitator from Child Bereavement UK. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive so we are putting the finishing touches to a second training day to be held early next year. Children spend so much time at school and the normality and routine can really help those who are grieving, especially in the early days, but it is so important that schools realise the impact of grief and that it is an ongoing process. Not time limited. In fact often as a child reaches a new level of maturity they will experience their grief in a new way. It’s not all done and dusted after the funeral or once the first anniversary has passed.
It is all made possible because of some wonderful people and fundraisers
We are now an officially registered charity (no: 1171422) with Lisa and Yvonne joining the team as trustees and we have received some fantastic grants and donations from various organisations and individuals. Our initial grant was from the Ed de Nunzio Trust, which enabled us to establish the Bereavement Practitioner pilot project and host the first training day. Since then we have received generous donations from Ambiente, The Phil Curtis Annual Fun Day, Bel’s 10K, Sally and Wayne’s wedding gift and Kathryn’s dad as well as other individuals and the ’round pound’ collection! We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people and we are so very grateful. Thank you!
So what’s next?
We are planning to keep doing what we’re doing…but try and reach more bereaved children, young people and their families. We are starting to arrange get togethers for the adults and in the process of writing a new leaflet to distribute to schools, GP surgeries and other organisations outlining the support we offer. We will be running another training day for schools and also looking at ways to develop support more specifically aimed at teenagers and young people. We are also delighted to be the official charity partner for the mini and junior runs at the York 10K in August 2018.
These children and young people have all experienced the most devastating losses in their young lives. We can’t take the pain away, but if we can help them and their families find a way to feel better able to cope with their grief then we will have achieved our goal.
So, you might be wondering why I started writing these blogs that occasionally appear on your Facebook newsfeed or maybe you’ve never given it a second thought, but I’m going to tell you anyway! (So if you don’t want to know the reasons…look away now!)
To help others
The main reason I write my blog is to (hopefully!) help others in similar situations to those I find myself in. It’s certainly not a pity party. I try not to moan and I do aim to inject some humour if I can. Personally I find it reassuring to read about someone who has had a similar experience to me, so I hope others find it helpful too. I have written about the reality of living with MS, bereavement, single parenthood and setting up a charity along with others on anxiety, anger and changes to the benefit system. My hope is that others will find reassurance in reading my experiences, even if it’s to make them feel that they’re making a much better job of it than me!
Raise awareness and challenge preconceptions
I love to write to raise awareness about different topics that the general public may be unaware of. Fortunately most people don’t know what it’s like to live with a chronic condition, especially when many of the symptoms are invisible. So I try to explain what that’s like so that people have more of an insight, because there are actually many people living with all sorts of ‘hidden’ illnesses and it would be great if there was more of a wider understanding.
I like to try and challenge preconceptions too. Following my experience of bereavement, both personally and through the charity I run, I realise that the general understanding of grief and more specifically how children grieve is often misunderstood. I hope that some of the blogs raise awareness about the needs of these children and families and how we are seeking ways to meet them.
It’s also a good way of talking about issues that are often more difficult to discuss face to face, like mental health issues. It’s a whole lot easier to write it down and share than it is to drop it into a conversation, but it means that people who are experiencing similar difficulties know they’re not alone and might even feel able to ask for help or at least talk about how they are feeling with someone else.
It is also a good platform to raise awareness about political issues like changes to the benefits system, the NHS and education. I get to vent my spleen about injustices!
I’ll be honest, I do find writing therapeutic. I have developed a love of writing that I’ve never had before. Iwrite privately for my eyes only too, I don’t share everything publicly, but there are occasions that I think it’s worth sharing a version of my thoughts more widely.
However, these blogs are not me spilling all of my innermost thoughts onto the screen, they are the edited, relevant highlights. It is therapeutic as in positive and helpful, but not therapy as in treatment. I firmly believe that the internet is not the place the bare your soul, but I think a little self disclosure can be helpful.
Because I have been encouraged to!
It’s all your fault! I wrote my first blog to mark World MS Day and was overwhelmed by the positive feedback I received from people…not just my friends (who have to be nice…it’s in the job description), but even some people I didn’t know!! So I thought I’d give it another go and that was well received too! So, it grew from there. I don’t publish blogs regularly, but more as topics arise and whilst the feedback remains positive I’ll keep doing it 🙂
I never felt I was very good at writing at school. I got a respectable B in my GCSE (and we won’t mention the A level result) but I was never confident in my ability. I got an ok degree, but again the writing didn’t come easily. It was always a challenge to reach the word count required for essays, but now I often have to cut down what I write because it’s too long! I think I found it difficult because it felt like it was all opinions about stuff that didn’t really matter. Whereas this stuff does matter. It matters that people going through tough times don’t feel alone. It matters that people have a better understanding of disability and grief and lone parenting. And if sharing a little of my experience provides an insight into those areas or helps to reassure someone in a similar situation then I think it’s worth it.
So what’s next? More of the same I think. I will continue to write about topics, causes and ideas as and when they arise. Regular readers will know I have been asked to write guest blogs for the national charity MS-UK, so that’s an exciting opportunity too. They say everyone has a book in them, I’m not sure about that, but a few hundred words in a blog? That I can do.
As this quote that circulates on social media suggests, people often don’t know what to say to the bereaved. They don’t want to mention the person who has died in case it causes upset and reminds them that their loved one has gone. Whereas the reality is, of course, that they never forget. They are reminded every day by the empty chair at the table, when they climb into bed alone at the end of the day or when their dad isn’t there to watch the match.
It is one of the last taboos. We don’t like to talk about death or we speak about it in hushed tones. This is particularly the case with children. We don’t like to mention death even though it is the most inevitable part of life. And for the children who are in the devastating situation of having experienced the loss of someone close to them at a young age, we often don’t know what to do for the best. We don’t like to mention it. There is often talk about the resilience of children in the face of tragedy, which implies that they should bounce back and move on. That if we fill their lives with busyness and positivity that they won’t notice that the significant person is missing. That they won’t remember the trauma of watching someone they love fade away or the shock of finding out that someone integral to their life has disappeared forever, with no warning. But this is obviously not the case. You can stuff their days full of dance classes and football matches, play dates and trips to the park, trying to fill every minute with activity, but the loss will still be there to deal with.
There is also the added complication for children because they often experience and revisit their grief when they reach eachnew level of understanding as they get older. It might be several years since a child lost their special person, but they are going to process it very differently at 13 to how they did when it happened aged 7.
There is no time limit on grief for adults or children and actually what is the ultimate goal? To deal with it, close that chapter and move on? I would suggest not. The person who has died was an important part of your life when they were alive so cannot and should not be forgotten now that they are not. Time definitely does help as the feelings and emotions aren’t so raw and the grief is not so all consuming as it is in the beginning. I guess maybe it’s to find a way forward that acknowledges the past and deals with the consequences of what has happened as and when they arise. This is certainly a challenge as an adult, so it must be even harder through they eyes of a child.
That’s partly why I started BCSY and the monthly drop-in sessions for the children. It is not so that they are reminded of their loss once a month on a Saturday afternoon, because as I explained earlier,they haven’t forgotten. It is with them all day, every day. However, it does give them space to actively ‘remember’ their special person by making and creating things in their memory, but equally they might just play and have fun with other children who understand. They don’t have to explain themselves, because for some children they have never met others in a similar situation to them and they can feel very isolated and alone. However, the children often do want to talk about their special person, sometimes about the loss but often about happy things they remember about them.
As we recently reached and passed the fourth anniversary of losing my husband it was lovely that a couple of people shared their memories of him with me. It was great
There is a campaign currently underway against changes proposed by the government, by people who it won’t affect for people who mostly don’t know it will affectthem.
The government are proposing to ‘modernise’ bereavement support to make it a ‘fairer’ system and to target support to when it is needed ‘most’.
Currently, if a married parent dies and they have paid enough national insurance contributions, the surviving parent is entitled to Widowed Parents Allowance (WPA) until their youngest child leaves full time education or until they remarry or move in with a partner (the irony, as cohabiting couples aren’t entitled to claim WPA!) This is not a welfare benefit. It is the pension that the person who died paid into, but will never get to claim. It is administered by the pensions department. It rises in line with the old age pension, because it is a pension.
But this is about to change. The system is being ‘modernised’. Excellent! Are they going to extend the provision to unmarried couples? No. As of 6th April 2017 if a parent dies the surviving spouse will be entitled to financial support for only 18 months. It will be tax free, and won’t impact any other benefits or stop if the person remarries. Well that’s ok then, becausegrieving and the impact of losing a parent on a child only lasts 18 months!? I don’t think so.
Part of the justification of this suggestion by Richard Harrington, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Pensions in the debate in the Work and Pension Committee on Thursday 2nd March was,
” the old system could be unfair and complex, and could act as a trap preventing people from readjusting. Reform is essential to simplify and modernise the system. The history of bereavement benefits is rooted in the Widows’, Orphans’ and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act 1925. The way that people thought in those days was that most women were wholly dependent on their husband’s income. If a woman was widowed, her sole source of income would disappear completely, so it was considered necessary to provide a replacement income for her to survive.
Today, women as well as men actively participate in the workforce, and many households now benefit from dual careers and dual incomes. That is why we are modernising bereavement support into a simple, uniform and easy-to-understand benefit that better reflects society. We listened to the recommendation of the Work and Pensions Committee that there was merit in considering the length of the new bereavement support payment. For that reason, the bereavement support payment is now payable over 18 months.”
The idea that this system ‘could act as a trap preventing people from readjusting’ is ludicrous! Because after the death of a spouse it’s just a case of ‘readjusting’? Nothing to do with grieving, coping, getting through each day and helping your children do the same? This isn’t a lifestyle choice to get used to, it is a situation that has been thrust upon us.
Women may not be wholly dependant on their husbands income as often these days, but sometimes they are, or sometimes the man has given up his job to care for his terminally ill wife. Or, as Mr Harrington points out, often families have ‘dual careers and dual incomes’ but they also probably have mortgages and outgoing so to match. So if that income is slashed in half overnight, then what? Add a house move to downsize in with all the other upheaveal?
There is no time limit on grief and if there was it certainly wouldn’t be 18 months. As I’ve written about before, I certainly found the second year after losing my husband even harder than the first. Bereaved children need stability. Their world has been turned upside down in the most horrific way possible. They often become fearful of change and are scared that something will happen to their surviving parent. They can experience all sorts of emotions such as anxiety, anger, sadness and the person they want to be there is their parent. This doesn’t stop after 18 months. In fact for many children it doesn’t start until many months have passed.
Another consideration is the job that the surviving parent did before their spouse died is not always compatible with single parenthood. They might’ve been working long hours or in a job involving a lot of travel. So they have to take less well paid jobs that don’t match their experience or qualifications for something with more child friendly hours.The amount currently payable in WPA is not a huge amount and it is taxable, but it does offer some financial stability at a very unstable time.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The transcript from the parliamentary committee can be read here if you’re interested in reading more
The main point is that Widowed Parents Allowance is money that was paid into the national insurance system by the deceased person. If they hadn’t died prematurely they would be claiming at as a pension.
This doesn’t affect current claimants, so I’m one of the ‘lucky’ ones, but it will affect those parents who are widowed on or after 6th April 2017. Many bereavement charities are lobbying parliament and there are some MPs who are opposing the proposals. A final decision is due in the next 2 weeks, so if you feel moved to take a stand for these people who don’t know they will need this help, then you can write to your MP here (you can amend the template letter and I personally removed the suggestion that extended the time from 18 months to 3 years).
Thank you on behalf of those who sadly don’t know they should be thanking you themselves.
Image Posted on Updated on
And people did come and I was so relieved! It’s all very well having an idea, but for it to come to fruition is something else entirely. The children that came seemed to enjoy the activities. When one boy asked his mum at the end of the session if they could come again, I was so thrilled! I asked the other children and parents if they would like to do it again and they all seemed keen and so Bereaved Children Support York (BCSY) was born!
We now hold monthly drop in sessions and we recently had our first social trip to the local Energi trampoline park. This was a great success and gave an opportunity for children who haven’t been to the drop in, to meet some of the other kids in a really relaxed environment. This is an area that I’m keen to develop and am already planning where we can go next!
It also appears to be benefitting the adults too by providing space to build friendships and share experiences. Often half the battle for the child and the parent/carer is knowing they’re not alone. To be in an environment where it feels safe to talk about difficult feelings and things that have happened can be very helpful.
So, what next?
Well, I’m continuing to try and spread the word about the drop in sessions through social media, by contacting schools and through the ELSA network. We now have a website at http://www.bcsy.org.uk
We’ve recently had an article written about us on York Mix by one of the lovely mums from the group. You can read it here http://www.yorkmix.com/life/eight-jonny-lost-dad-mums-response-something-special/
I think that the next step is probably to become a registered charity, as this would allow us to apply for grants to help develop the services we can offer. Ideally I would like to be able to employ an experienced bereavement worker/professional to offer one to one sessions for those children who need more specialist support. I would also like to explore other ways of supporting bereaved children to help with things like self esteem, confidence and resilience. I would also love to find a way of supporting older children and young people and maybe provide play therapy for the very young children. There are so many possibilities and it’s early days, but I’m looking forward to seeing how BCSY can develop and grow to meet the needs of bereaved children, young people and their families in York.
Today is Children’s Grief Awareness Day and the beginning of Children’s Grief Awareness Week (17th-23rd November). Around this time last year I wrote a blog about children’s grief and the lack of support for bereaved children in my area and how I was going to try and create something to meet this need. Well here I am a year later and it’s amazing how far we’ve come!
As I’ve written before, 1 in 29 school aged children have lost a parent or sibling. That’s a startling statistic and one you probably aren’t aware of unless your child is the one. It was following the sudden death of my husband, when my son was 8 years old, that I discovered the apparent lack of support available for bereaved children in York. So in May this year I started Bereaved Children Support York (BCSY). I run a monthly drop in peer support group, arrange social trips and activities and supply books and resources to parents and carers.
This gives the children a chance to meet others who have similar experiences in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. In the 6 months since we started, I have watched friendships develop and confidence grow. There is lots of fun and laughter, sometimes there are tears, but always there is support from others and a listening ear. The children know that they are not alone.
I’m gradually spreading the word about what we are doing. I am making connections with other organisations like the CVS, the council, the hospice, youth organisations and schools. I am also in the midst of writing an application to become a registered charity and then the hard work really begins as I look to secure funding to employ someone to offer one to one therapeutic support.
So, from an idea a year ago to where we are now is really quite astounding. Over 30 bereaved children have attended a session or event in the last 6 months. Some have come to one event, others haven’t missed a session and many are somewhere in between. I’m also in contact with a number of other families who haven’t been able to make an event yet, but are interested in what we’re doing.
I am hugely thankful for all the support I have received from family, friends and the kindness of strangers who continue to surprise me with donations and offers of help. It is a privilege to meet these children and their families. To build relationships and for them to trust me with their stories and be part of their grief journey. It is hard work, but immensely rewarding. I remain passionate about raising awareness about the needs of bereaved children and young people. There is no quick fix or simple solution, but if I can eventually build a service that offers ways of helping children and their families to negotiate the path of grief that can only be a good thing.