Read our Annual Report
For a great overview of all our activities to support bereaved children, young people and their families in the local community, please read the FiG Annual Report 2020-2021.
Our Impact on Bereaved Children, Young People and their Families
Billy is 7 years old. His Dad died of a heart attack, leaving him alone at home with his Mum. Billy believes that it was his fault and feeling confused and guilty lashes out at his Mum. Billy doesn't want to leave his Mum's side, anxious that his Mum may die too, so he doesn't go to school regularly. Billy doesn't talk to his friends about his Dad's death and feels very alone.
Children like Billy often experience a range of emotional, social and physical effects after the death of someone close to them. Billy is one of many children supported by Families in Grief (FiG) each year and is one of the many children affected by bereavement before the age of 16. The Childhood Bereavement Network estimates that 380 children in Devon alone are bereaved of a parent each year.
Many areas of North Devon contend with low salaries and high levels of unemployment. According to Devon County Council figures, at least one in five children live in income deprived families in Barnstaple and Ilfracombe. We offer this crucial bereavement support completely free to ensure that families regardless of social-economic circumstances can get the help they need.
We are a childhood bereavement charity helping families to rebuild their lives after the death of someone close to them. We believe that we can have greater impact on a bereaved child, if we support the parents/carers around the child too.
From the point of contact, we work together with the main carer to plan the appropriate pathway of support for their child and family. With the parent’s permission we can also contact the child’s school to offer strategies and tools to help to help the child in the classroom.
We tailor support to the child and their situation; coming up with strategies to help get them into school, or sending a list of appropriate books to help the child, or an information sheet on for example, ‘Sleeping Tips for Teens’. This addresses their individual needs. We visit children and young people at home or at school facilitating conversations between family members in a safe space, these conversations can unlock previously unheard thoughts and feelings and often a child gains confidence to talk more openly about their bereavement. We offer group support to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. We have seen how difficult it is for children and young people to talk about their feelings, so at our groups we encourage expression through creative and physical activities. We sit side by side rather than face to face to encourage conversation. We support the parents/carers of the children too. They have their own group which runs at the same time.
When helping and supporting bereaved children and young people we aim to make the following impact on their lives:
- To improve relationships with their family
- To improve their engagement with school
- To reduce social isolation
When helping a parent/carer we aim to make the following differences to both themselves and their family:
- To improve relationships with their family
- To reduce social isolation
We measure the differences we make to bereaved children, young people and their parent/carer by using these three categories:
- Significant progress
- Yet to experience progress
We evaluate how progress has been made in all of the differences throughout the child's journey with us by taking notes, making observations and asking the child and parents questions about their home, school or social life. This evaluation can take place over six to eight months. We analyse each child's journey and decide on their level of progress.
Improving Family Relationships
We help to improve family relationships by offering strategies and resources to parents and carers over the phone or via email. Parents then start to implement what they have learnt, or pass on strategies to their children, to help them to manage their feelings better. It is common for family members to want to protect each other from sadness or pain by not talking to one another about the person that died. We help to facilitate conversations between family members during home visits, sometimes separating a child from their parent to help them to talk more openly without the other overhearing. We find that this starts to ‘unlock’ previously unheard conversations which in turn helps family members to feel closer to one another. We also sometimes use Zoom to have online conversations with families.
To help families feel better and less alone in their grief we run two types of support groups. The first is our Children’s Group for primary school aged children and their parents or carers. This runs for six weekly sessions in the evening. We also run a group called Teens in Grief for young people aged 11-18. At these sessions, the children or young people are in one room, whilst their parent or carer has their own ‘Parent’s Group’ in a room nearby.
We separate the parents from their children to encourage both to talk more freely about their feelings and about their experiences within their own groups. Over the course of the group sessions parents and children gain confidence talking about their feelings and memories about the person that died. After the sessions, conversations between family members open up on the way home and by talking more openly together about their feelings and family relationships improve.
We have so many examples of where family relationships have improved. Here are just two of the many positive outcomes we have seen. Names have been disguised for confidentiality purposes:
Helen experienced significant progress. She was 12 when her Dad died by suicide. When Helen came to us for support, she had run away from home several times and was very angry. Following our support Mum said "Helen is a lot calmer now, we don't have as many arguments. She's now part of the family and no longer desperate to run away. Thank you for giving me my daughter back".
Connie experienced progress in this area. At the beginning of his journey Mum told us that Connie was "moody lethargic and not getting up for school which was causing conflict" Following our support Mum told us "Family life is much better, there is not as much anger floating around in us".
Following our support the majority of children tell us that their family relationships have improved.
Improving Engagement with School
Bereaved children and young people tell us that they are unable to concentrate in class, sometimes not doing their work or leaving the class in tears. Many don't attend school regularly unable to cope with 'normal' life following the death of their parent or relative.
We help children and young people to manage their emotions in a more positive way through activities which help to build a picture of grief, strong feelings around grief and how they can look after themselves. Puppets are used for younger children, and the teens do a ball game where they catch a ball and shout out what grief looks like for them e.g. headaches, crying, worry.
Children and young people draw around each other on a large piece of paper and in pairs draw on the body where they feel these strong emotions, for example, one may draw a wiggly black line around the hands for anger. There follows a discussion around the drawings about these feelings and healthy ways to express them.
Children tell us that following these and other activities around emotions, they feel calmer at school and have less separation anxiety, their school attendance improves as a result.
We also support and help teaching staff where required at any point in a child’s journey with us including offering bereavement training.
One example of the positive changes we have seen in children after our support would be Stephen, age 9, whose Mum died when he was 8. He joined our six week children’s group. At the parents’ group, Stephen’s Dad said during the second session that Stephen was “like a different boy” and that he had had no calls from school about difficult behaviour, which was a great improvement. This continued throughout the six weeks, with Dad describing his son as being “transformed” in our final group session. At a TAF (Team Around the Family) session with Stephen’s school after four weeks of group sessions, Stephen’s teaching assistant reported that “Stephen is coming in much happier in the mornings this last month” – he says ‘hello’ to her voluntarily, and seems much calmer and not “dragging a heavy bucket overflowing with stresses” before he starts class unlike before. He was slamming chairs on the floor and regularly choosing to leave the classroom when upset last term, but they are not seeing that behaviour any more. He is now much calmer at school, this has had a positive impact on Stephen, his class mates and the teaching staff around him.
Here are some other examples of positive progess made by children and young people following our support:
Bea made significant progress at school following our support. She was 6 years old when her Stepfather died. Her behavior in class deteriorated and her teacher was concerned. During our support Bea gained confidence to talk openly about her feelings, and when the group ended, chose to take her memory box to 'show and tell' at school. Mum said "Bea talked to her classmates about the activities she did at the FiG group, she is growing in confidence and is much happier at school". Bea's teacher said "Bea is laughing and smiling more, such a transformation".
Also following our support through our 'Teens in Grief' group two young people have been able to stand up during their school assembly in front of hundreds of their peers, to talk about the death of their parent and sibling. They are now both FiG ambassadors.
We sometimes receive feedback from teachers. One teacher said: "Since taking part in Teens in Grief my pupil's concentration has improved and his attendance has improved".
Reducing Social isolation
Following the death of someone close, children and young people often feel isolated from their friends, as they are now 'different' from their peers, and are sometimes bullied because of their bereavement. Many young people find it difficult to talk to their friends or family about their feelings, and so grieve alone.
We support children and families in ‘groups’ and not 1:1 whether it’s facilitating conversations between family members at home, or by bringing together bereaved families at our group sessions. By facilitating family conversations, or by bringing different families together to participate in activities about the death of their parent or relative, it immediately helps them to feel less alone in their grief. Many form friendships in the group and continue to meet up outside the group helping relieve social isolation, now having a sense of belonging to a peer group where they don't feel different.
Throughout all of our group activities children and young people talk about the memories they have of the person that's died, or how they are coping with their grief at home or at school. During these conversations children and young people listen to each other and come together as a new community, finding answers and reassuring each other; understanding that they are not alone with the challenges they face. Henry aged 12 says: "I've loved meeting others in the same situation, it's helped me feel like I'm not the only one".
Many of the families who meet at our support group sessions, continue to meet up after our support has ended. Nadine, Mum of two girls 12 and 13 says "FiG has given my children support and confidence to speak without sadness about their Dad's death. They now know that they are not alone and feel reassured knowing that there are other children who have also lost a loved one".
Sue’s husband died 1.5 years before Sue and her children came to FiG. Sue reported in her evaluation that the Parents Group was the turning point for her, she said that “It’s the first time I’ve talked and your support is the first thing that’s helped in two years”.
Emily a teen and her Mum attended a TiG group. Emily participated fully in all of the activities and quickly made friends with other girls in the group. She was really open and honest throughout the six weekly sessions and also opened up about being bullied at school. In the last group session Emily said that she now felt that she was "not alone” She seemed ‘lighter’ and experienced significant progress following the group saying in the final evaluation questionnaire: “I am now happy and have motivation to get up in the morning" She also said “I can now talk more easily about my Dad, and have made friends at the group who understand me - thank you”
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