Dealing with bereavement at any age can prove to be a difficult and emotionally turbulent time, but even more so when the one grieving is a child.
Not only can a child be emotionally scarred by the loss of a friend or relative, it could impact on their future behaviour.
An Altrincham-based specialised support service aims to offer help and support to children, aged 5-11, who are experiencing bereavement, separation or trauma, which has had an effect on their learning or relationships.
Consultant Maggie Keane set up The Child Support and Wellbeing (C-SAW) project having spent many years as a social worker for Salford schools.
It was during her time there that she discovered in some cases a child with behaviour issues had experienced a personal loss at a younger age.
Though qualified as a counsellor, Ms Keane describes C-SAW as an alternative to counselling.
She said: “I don’t counsel. I make the link between the child and the person they need to talk to.
“The longest time I’ve been with a child is six hours – once a week for six weeks.
“Sometimes it’s shorter than that, and a carer can continue that when I’m not there.
“If there was an incident, they’ll know how to be with children and how to support them without me being there.
“The more I train, the less they need me and the more they can manage it themselves – it’s something I want everybody to sustain.”
Ms Keane focuses on early intervention, which encourages and enables a bereaved child to identify an adult in their life who can sustain a supportive relationship, so that longer term symptoms of trauma – such as learning barriers to the child’s education or difficulties with socialising with other children – are prevented.
She said: “A lot of children stop talking because they’re frightened they will upset the other parents or other carer in their life.
“So children withdraw and don’t talk about it, by talking about the other person – celebrating their life, talking about their feelings – their feelings should change very much.”
Place2B, a national youth charity providing counselling services for children aged 4-14 in 10 schools across Greater Manchester, agrees with Ms Keane’s method of early intervention.
Keith Harvey, Regional Manager for Greater Manchester at Place2Be, said: “Early intervention holds the key to transforming children’s lives so that they can grow up as emotionally resilient individuals and flourish both academically and in life as a whole.
“In the current economic climate purse strings are tight, however early intervention brings about both social and financial return on investment.
“For example, economic evaluation has proven that for every £1 spent on supporting children through Place2Be services, a saving for society is made of £6.
“But ultimately, beyond this financial argument, by supporting children in schools we are investing in our future generation, helping children to grow up with prospects not problems.”
Although secondary schools often have a dedicated counselling service, many primary schools lack the necessary resources to help a child understand their feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
Deborah Brownlee, Trafford’s Corporate Director of Children and Young People’s Services, told MM that schools can choose to get staff training through the council’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
Ms Brownlee said: “Where a child or young person is referred to CAMHS for bereavement counselling, the team ensures they are signposted through to the most appropriate specialist bereavement service as quickly as possible.”
Liz Koole, Family Services Team Leader at Winston’s Wish, a charity for bereaved children, said: “Failure to support children after someone important in their family has died can lead to anger, depression, sleeping difficulties, relationship problems and mental health issues.
“Research shows that some bereaved children are more likely to try drugs, become pregnant or break the law, by the age of 18, than those who have not lost a parent.
“All of these have an impact on a child’s ability to succeed at school.”
The Caritas Diocese of Salford runs a School Work Service, a micro-social enterprise where schools pay them for counselling at a subsidised rate and any surplus goes back into the facilities.
At a national level, the Child Bereavement Charity was funded by the Department of Health to tackle the inequality of bereavement support for children and young people in England.
It does this by developing and delivering networks to support bereaved families, involving local health, education, social care and voluntary organisations.
Manchester has been identified as one of the six areas over the next three years as being in need of addition help and support.
The Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN), a national federation for individuals and organisations working with bereaved children, estimates that more than 12,000 5-16 year olds in Greater Manchester are living with the loss of a parent, brother or sister.
Many others will have suffered the bereavement of someone else close, such as a grandparent, teacher or friend.
C-SAW accepts referrals from schools, parents, GPs, the National Health Service, educational psychologists, public, private and voluntary sectors.
For more information about the project visit www.childsupportandwellbeing.co.uk