Monday 10th September 2012
Principal Psychologist Elizabeth King explains how her service developed an award-winning programme for young people who have experienced loss, change or bereavement.
Give us a break! is an eight-week programme for young people aged 10–14 who are coping with negative change in their lives. Produced by South Lanarkshire Council Psychological Services and NHS Lanarkshire, the programme acknowledges
that loss and grief are a normal part of life and are unique to each individual.
It supports young people in managing the emotional consequences of loss. The real value of the programme lies in its flexibility, and the solution-focused theoretical framework that underpins it.
The idea for a programme came from a locality multidisciplinary scoping exercise which I attended in 2007. It was aimed at highlighting gaps in provision within South Lanarkshire Council. South Lanarkshire is the fifth largest local authority in Scotland and encompasses a diverse mix of urban and rural environments.
We were asked to identify three areas of concern and everyone raised the lack of bereavement resources. It was acknowledged there was a wealth of research available along with existing high-quality materials, but it was felt that these didn’t meet the full range of social and emotional needs of young people.
Sitting next to me was a colleague I’d never met before – Jean Aitken, a Macmillan Palliative Care Counsellor working within NHS Lanarkshire. Inspired by the strength of feeling expressed by the practitioners, Jean and I made a commitment to work together to address this gap. We knew we would both have to turn to our organisations for help - Jean to Macmillan and me to the local authority.
‘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’ Bethany McVeigh, 15
Over the next two years, many colleagues contributed generously to the development of the programme. The programme pack contains an introduction and general information; notes and lessons plans for each week; resource sheets for
all activities; and notes on working with parents.
The published materials were significantly enriched by an extensive consultation exercise within the local authority. This included gathering the views of young people and parents who participated in the pilot groups.
The group sessions
Up to six young people meet for eight one-hour weekly sessions within a school or healthcare environment. The group sessions are normally led by two staff.
Throughout the group sessions, young people have the opportunity to tell their story and speak about their feelings. They learn to understand the changes in their lives and how they feel about these. They also gain support from other young people who have been through similar experiences.
The young people identify their strengths and use goal setting to move towards the future.
In November 2009, South Lanarkshire Council hosted a national launch of Give us a break!
in collaboration with Macmillan and NHS Lanarkshire. The launch was covered by Scottish Television and a young person involved in a Give us a break!
group spoke movingly on television about the positive impact of attending the group.
It’s likely that without the generous financial support and wonderful encouragement from our Macmillan colleagues, Give us a break!
would not be in its present form, nor would there be the vision for a national rollout.
The knowledge base of key practitioners would not have been extended, and young people would not have benefitted from being involved in the Give us a break! groups. The programme is receiving national interest and won the best team award from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in March.
A number of Scottish local authorities have requested training and we have an excellent and passionate training team, which includes: Anne Murphy (one of the original authors) and Lisa Cunningham, Educational Psychologists at Psychological Services and Tracy Stephen, Clinical Team Manager at NHS Lanarkshire.
The DVD we made helps colleagues understand what the programme offers and a Give us a break! website is in development.
Bethany and Christopher - case studies Bethany McVeigh, 15, of East Kilbride
, attended the Give us a break!
programme at St Andrew’s and St Bride’s School following the death of her father.
‘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,’ Bethany says.
‘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.’
Christopher Rinn, 15, of East Kilbride, attended Give us a break! after he struggled to come to terms with the death of his mother three years earlier, 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.’