17 December 2009
An innovative programme that helps young people cope with bereavement, loss and major changes in their lives launched in Scotland last month.
The first of its kind in the UK, Give Us A Break! launched at a seminar in Hamilton on Wednesday 25 November 2009.
The eight-week programme sees small groups of young people aged between 10 and 14 years old attending weekly sessions that are run by trained facilitators.
It was developed as a result of joint work by Macmillan Cancer Support, South Lanarkshire Council education psychology services and NHS Lanarkshire, and funded with a £50,000 grant from Macmillan.
Elspeth Atkinson, Macmillan’s director for Scotland, said:
'Although the programme is to help all children coping with loss, change or bereavement, we knew there was a real need to support those coping with the death of a loved one from cancer.
'This programme is also designed to help children who are trying to cope with changes within a household, perhaps because a family member has had a cancer diagnosis. We know a cancer diagnosis places a lot of strain on the whole family and children can feel at the brunt of this.'
It is the first programme in the UK to help children via a 'solution focussed approach'. This is a type of therapy that was developed in the US and places emphasis on the present and future. It helps young people to recognise and develop their personal strengths and effective coping strategies.
Already more than 30 children have attended pilot sessions, which have taken place at schools throughout South Lanarkshire. A group has also taken place at the Haven in Blantyre, a charity that supports families affected by life-limiting illnesses. The programme gives young people an opportunity to speak in confidence about loss and changes in their lives.
By telling their story, speaking about their feelings and from listening to the experiences of others, those attending learn to understand the changes in their lives. It also allows young people to identify their strengths and draw upon these to help manage the changes they are experiencing.
Christopher Rinn, 13, of East Kilbride, attended Give Us A Break! after he struggled to come to terms with the death of his mother three years ago, and then later his grandmother. He was referred to the group by his guidance teacher at St Andrew’s and St Bride’s School.
Christopher, who is now giving talks at his school to bereaved children on the benefit of attending the group, said:
'When my mum died, I felt sad and a bit depressed. This was something which really hit me when my gran also died a year later.
'The group really helped me though because, although we spoke about what had happened and why we were sad, what we really focussed on was on our strengths and how to make the most of them. I got a lot of confidence from it and it made me feel a lot better.'
Bethany McVeigh, 14, of East Kilbride, also attended the Give Us A Break! programme at St Andrew’s and St Bride’s School following the death of her father. She said:
'When my dad died, I was really upset and I found it really hard to come to terms with. One of my teachers suggested I attend the group, which I did every week. I didn’t really know the people in the group when I started going but I’m really good friends with some of them now.
'Everyone in the group was around the same age as me and I found it really easy to talk to them about how I felt about my dad’s death. It helped a lot to know that there were other people who felt the same and I wasn’t the only one this had happened to.'
Initially being introduced across South Lanarkshire, if successful, the training package could be rolled out across Scotland.
Over the next year, healthcare staff, teachers, social workers, counsellors, educational psychologists and other professionals in South Lanarkshire will be trained to facilitate the group sessions.
Elizabeth King, the principal psychologist at South Lanarkshire Council, said:
'There are great benefits in existing bereavement and loss programmes but these do not meet the needs of all children experiencing such life challenges. Give Us A Break! offers a very valuable contribution towards filling that gap.'
Councillor Mary Smith, chair of the Education Resources Committee in South Lanarkshire, said:
'This is an excellent resource that can used to support children and young people at times of difficulty caused through the loss of a loved one, family separation or any other significant event that may affect them.
'The resource has been built around real life experiences faced by young people and on a wealth of research undertaken all those involved. They are to be congratulated on producing such a valuable resource.'
Geoff Sage, general manager for the Hamilton locality of NHS Lanarkshire said:
'NHS Lanarkshire has been pleased to work with South Lanarkshire Council and Macmillan Cancer Support in developing this innovative approach to bereavement and loss as it affects children.
'Staff working in this area have long realised the need for better provision. This project demonstrates a commitment to provide early interventions for children and provide them with supportive opportunities for their future development.'
To arrange an interview with someone from Give Us A Break! or with a young person who has been assisted by the service, contact Linda Summerhayes on 0131 260 3720.
Macmillan Cancer Support improves the lives of people affected by cancer. We provide practical, medical, emotional and financial support and push for better cancer care. Cancer affects us all. We can all help. We are Macmillan.