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By Emily Gray, Art therapist at Saint Francis Hospice

Children in Need enabling child bereavement support at Saint Francis Hospice

Emily having an art therapy session with a child

It has been difficult for all children and young people throughout the pandemic and for those who have faced bereavement or are facing a loss, it has been even tougher.


These children have been coping with feelings of grief and loss but many have also been struggling with anxiety, feeling disconnected, restricted, fearful and isolated.


Many young people are struggling with their level of confidence and are finding it a challenge to adapt to change and different way of living.


With the support of Children in Need funding, Saint Francis Hospice have been providing weekly counselling sessions, which has included art therapy sessions for children and young people, giving them a safe, consistent place to explore and share their thoughts and feelings in a way that is comfortable to them.


Art making is used in art therapy as a way of expressing and communicating feelings that can be too hard to verbalise. Offering a child space to express themselves leads to exploration and supports them in processing difficult, often confusing emotions. We offer a range of materials in face to face sessions promoting choice, freedom of expression, independence and confidence. Children find art making a way to release feelings such as anger and frustration and these can be explored together in sessions safely.


Art making can share memories, bring comfort and be a connection to a loved one who has died. Painting beach stones for example to lay on a loved ones grave or creating a picture of a loved one can not only bring up conversation but supports a young person in processing their loss. During lockdown we delivered art packs to families when face to face sessions was not safe to offer due to the government guidelines. The children used these packs during their online therapy sessions, continuing their creativity and exploration in a different way and helping to reduce feelings of isolation. Many children showed their families what they had made afterwards which supported them in feeling more comfortable in sharing their feelings at home.


I recently finished working with a young child whose mother had sadly died. The child found it difficult to verbalise how she felt. Art therapy gave her the opportunity to communicate her feelings to me and we explored them together over a number of weeks, at school before the pandemic and online video sessions throughout lockdown. She decorated a memory box to remember her mother and made images in her sessions which helped her feel connected to her mother which we could talk about together. It was wonderful to witness her begin to look forward to her future and see her enjoying things again.


Another family I have been working with sadly lost their grandmother to cancer this year. The two siblings have been having art therapy sessions with me online and more recently at their school within social distancing guidelines. Their therapy sessions have provided them with an outlet for their grief, giving them space and time to process, reflect and adjust to significant changes in their lives.


“...As a family we are indebted to the Family Support Services at Saint Francis Hospice and in particular to the wonderful care and kindness demonstrated by Emily Gray, Child and family therapists. Our eldest daughter has been anxious about expressing her feelings because of the impact it would have at home. Having the support of a trained therapist has given our children a voice and the freedom to express how they feel without worrying about upsetting anyone.

 

The service not only helps young people but also takes pressure off families coming to terms with loss. In these challenging times, support is so essential because we no longer have the luxury of reaching out for help from friends and family and the grieving process is also subject to lockdown restrictions.

 

The therapy through art approach is also something that has brought us closer together as a family as we have been using the materials provided to create art and models to remember the children's grandmother. Thank you, Emily and the team at Saint Francis. We are so lucky to have you and our children's mental health and well being is so much better because of the work you do." - Rabia, Parent.


We want to say a huge thank you to Children in Need for continuing to enable us to provide much needed help and support to children and young people in our community.

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