| Jun 11, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - June 11, 2009 Bereavement group established to assist grieving childrenBy Julie Druker

Caroline Yates and Hazel Huneault facilitators of the BFO- Kingston grief support group for elementary students

For anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one in their life, grieving is a necessary and natural ongoing process that must take place in order for the individual to begin to heal.

However, bereaved children, who are often “silent grievers”, can get lost in the shuffle when a close family member has been lost.

Children may internalize their feelings and thoughts, not wanting to upset other family members and often not knowing exactly how to express their feelings. Children can find themselves left on their own, struggling with feelings that they have difficulty understanding.

Many professionals believe that because children often do not yet possess the necessary skills required to grieve, they can greatly benefit from professional grief support.

In recognition of this, Bereaved Families of Ontario (BFO), Kingston Region has developed and is offering for the first time an in-school program that is geared specifically to elementary school-aged children.

Volunteer coordinators Caroline Yates, the executive director of BFO- Kingston region, and BFO bereavement facilitator Hazel Huneault, recently participated in the first BFO program, which was held in the public library at Hinchinbrooke Public School in Parham.

Eight children from three schools participated in the program, and spent one hour a week in a group setting. Last Wednesday, Yates and Huneault concluded the 6-week program.

Yates explained, “We started by defining what grief is and then we talked about the feelings associated with grief.”

In week 2 the children made memory boxes, and by having a craft to focus on, were able to naturally and openly discuss with one another the loved one they lost and their feelings. The children were invited to bring in special mementos for their boxes and had a chance to speak to the group about what they created.

Huneault said, "It’s often difficult for children to be able to talk to their peers about a family loss because the majority of children have not lost a loved one.” She said the program presented an opportunity for the participants to get to know other children who have experienced a similar loss.

Yates said, “Kids often admit to feeling ‘mixed up’ and sometimes to ‘not belonging’. The very fact that they are able to admit these feelings in a supportive environment is a good thing.”

The program is not a counseling group but rather a support group. Yates explained, “The program is based on a mutual support model where it is the bereaved helping the bereaved. Both Hazel and I have experienced the loss of family members and we let the children know, that so they know they can trust us.”

Huneault explained that the program developed from a bereavement program that she and School Counselor Leah Carey facilitated at Prince Charles Public School earlier this year in March.

According to Huneault the Prince Charles program “was so successful that we wanted to do another one. So that’s when I immediately approached BFO/Kingston and asked them to come on board.”

Yates said, “We at BFO-Kingston were looking to start a program for children in the schools next September but when Hazel called, wanting to start something up immediately, we felt it was a great opportunity to get things going.”

Yates and Huneault were visibly thrilled with having concluded the first program, which they felt was an overwhelming success.

Both hope to see this program become a regular occurrence in both elementary and also high schools as well.

Yates added, “I’d love to see us do this type of program as many times as we can next year with the official support of the schools.”

For more information please visit www.bfo-kingston.ca

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