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Child Grief Awareness Week: How Weldmar is supporting schools in Dorset to help children facing grief and loss

“We’ve found that children are more able to articulate how they’re feeling because we’ve opened the door.”

Grief and loss affects at least one child in every classroom. At Weldmar Hospicecare, we feel passionately about supporting children through their grief when they are about to, or have lost a loved one.

We are fortunate to have a Children & Young People’s Bereavement Support Practitioner at Weldmar, Kate Hyde, who works across Dorset to help children and young people cope with loss when a loved one is at the end of their life.

However, grief and loss are complex emotions, especially in children, and so to support them fully it helps if schools know how to identify, and navigate their feelings.

In June last year, the headteacher at St Osmund’s Middle School in Dorchester had become increasingly aware that a number of her pupils were experiencing loss, due in part to the pandemic. Identifying a need to train her staff to help children to cope with these feelings, she searched for an organisation able to provide training after the first lockdown lifted. Kate had been supporting some of the children at St Osmund’s, and at that time, Weldmar had put measures in place to still continue to offer training to schools where there is already an existing relationship.

Mrs. Sawtell says ‘We had noticed an increasing number of our pupils affected by losing someone they were close to. We identified a need for all of our staff to upskill to be able to understand what distressed behaviour looks like and to help the child work through that. Kate was able to help us with that.’

Mrs. Sawtell adds ‘Kate’s input gave a depth of understanding that was new across the whole body of staff. We’ve always had one or two members of staff more trained in bereavement and grief and loss. But actually, we all needed to have a deeper understanding as all of us are face to face with children all day long. And because of the multiplication effect – it wasn’t enough to only have a couple of staff that were highly skilled.’

Kate provided the teaching and support staff with some new strategies, and new language to use. She went through the multiple and complex ways that grief can affect a child.

Mrs. Sawtell says ‘That helped us to see not just the face to face behaviour, which is the first thing you see in a school, but think behind it and see that is a secondary behaviour. The actual problem is way back. We need to accept as adults that in the first place we may be witnessing some quite upsetting and distressed behaviours. We now will implement a strategy to navigate the child so it’s a more positive journey, instead of telling the children off or watching them struggle and feel helpless. We’ve all felt more proactive.’

‘We’ve found that children are more able to articulate how they’re feeling because we’ve opened the door. Children are becoming happier, and not just frozen and stuck in their grief. We’ve been able to provide some different things because we’re led by the child. They’ve told us that maybe they need more opportunities to talk about their feelings, or they feel certain activities would help them. We’ve been able to do extracurricular things such as a wellbeing group and yoga. Children have told us that it helps to focus in the moment. But it’s not just those things, it’s across the school children have been able to form a closer attachment to an available adult because more of us have become emotionally available after Kate’s input. We’ve also been able to have challenge conversations amongst ourselves when we see it’s perhaps not working so well, because of Kate’s guidance.

Understanding grief and loss and helping at school helps children at home too – whether their families are open to talking about it or not. Mrs. Sawtell says ‘Children who don’t talk about their grief and loss at home, we think, benefit in particular. It’s given them resilience as well as built their ability to cope and navigate their own course forward.

‘We’ve also had families where it is perhaps more openly talked about but they appreciate it being discussed at school because it shares the burden. Then it is a lovely two-way street, and that is so much in the child’s best interest.’

Mrs. Sawtell adds ‘After Kate’s input, a few of us, myself included, have completed trauma-informed schools training. The investment we’ve made in upskilling our team has made us a richer, more informed professional body, able to help our students at difficult times in their lives.

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