Supporting Youth Through Grief

It is estimated that 1 in 14 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the time they turn 18. In just one year, over 203,000 of Canada’s 7.5 million children under 18 will experience the death of someone in their extended family. The death of a parent or sibling has been found to be one of the most stressful life events that a child or youth can experience.

The VON home and clinic care provided by nurses, personal support workers and therapists is naturally extended and enhanced by additional VON community support services. As our teams work with many clients and their families to support them through caregiving, palliative care and end of life services, their journey continues. VON staff extend those relationships and continue to provide support through bereavement services.

Throughout the pandemic, the VON Caregiver and Bereavement Support team has continued to connect with individuals virtually through peer group sessions, caregiver retreats and expressive art programs to help provide opportunities for sharing, coping and healing.

The VON Teen and Kids’ Circle programs engage children and youth to share their feelings in a safe environment, helping them to process grief in healthy ways. Participants learn that they are not alone and together with support, learn to build a tool kit of coping skills and resources.

This past summer we held our first ever Kids’ Circle Summer Bereavement Camp. We ran the camp virtually for one week, Monday-Friday, from 1-4pm. We had 10 children join us, and the help of 5 volunteers (including 1 youth volunteer). Each day had a specific focus: Getting to Know One Another & Grief introduction, Exploring our Feelings, Learning to Cope & Care for Ourselves, Remembering, and Self-Esteem/Self-Compassion Building.

Our goals for this program were to give bereaved children a space to feel connected and not alone, learn to identify and work through emotions, and to focus on continuing relationships with their person even after death.

We played games, made crafts, watched videos, listened to music and explored grief together. Each child was given a kit prior to camp that included craft supplies, a “Coping Box”, tools for grieving and working through emotions (such as “Little Fits” for anger and “Breathing Buddies”), a “Hopes Hugs” blanket and more! We really wanted to give the sense of “camp” so we had S’more granola bars and camp fire songs. Our first craft included making a camp fire out of toilet paper rolls and red, yellow & orange tissue paper. Each child was given a battery-operated tea light and for the remainder of the week we lit our memorial camp fires as a reminder of what brought us all together and to represent the ongoing love and relationships we can have with our deceased loved ones.

It is important for children to feel heard and supported in their grief, and to have the opportunity to connect with peers who have experienced similar losses.

Meagan Alexander, RSSW
Program Coordinator
Supportive Care and Bereavement Services
T: 519-245-3170 Ext. 227
274 Head Street North, Strathroy, ON N7G 4L7

Becky Ahrens, RSSW
Program Coordinator
Supportive Care and Bereavement Services
T: 519-637-6408 ext. 222 |  C: 226-234-9257
175 South Edgeware Rd, St. Thomas, ON N5P 4C4

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