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Children’s Counselling

Our Family Support Team do important work to provide counselling and care for young children. Children’s Counsellor Ben Bourne tells us about their work.

Children's Counsellor Ben works with children who have lost someone they love

“Hi, and welcome to our Hospice Family Room. My name’s Ben, and I’m a member of the St Teresa’s Hospice Family Support Team. We’re a multi-disciplinary team of counsellors and social workers based here at the Hospice, and it’s our job to provide support to people at some of the hardest times in their lives.

We’re privileged to work with patients, families and carers both before and after they’ve lost someone they love. We link in with all areas of Hospice care, and act in partnership with all the other services offered by the Hospice, through group work for carers and bereaved people, as well as one to one counselling.

In addition to working with children at the Hospice, we’re active in local schools, providing support, training and education to teachers and support workers around how to interact with and be alongside a bereaved child.

By meeting people as soon after diagnosis as possible, we’re able to make that link and build a relationship that helps us give smoother and tailored support once a death occurs. This is particularly important for children’s counselling.

It’s sad to say that one in every fifteen children will suffer the loss of a parent before the age of 15, and one in every five children will lose a loved one before they turn 18. By making contact early and providing help to young people before they lose their loved one we’re able to help families to have open and honest conversations about death and dying.

We use a variety of tools to address such difficult issues as separation anxiety. Children are encouraged to make ‘kiss cards’ that they can keep, that gives them a physical connection with the patient that they can carry around with them whilst at school or when apart.

We also give them each one of our big and little toy animals. This way, the child can keep the big animal with them, knowing their real parent has the little animal with them. This goes a long way towards maintaining a child’s involvement during illness, and gives us a strong connection with the family.

Once the death does occur, this connection and the work we’ve already done together becomes invaluable. The children know they have a safe and supportive space to feel able to explore their feelings and their grief. We help them to understand that it’s normal and healthy to cry, or to be angry, or to feel whatever they feel. By showing them how to tell their story their way, they feel some measure of control and can develop a resilient narrative around this.

At this stage we’ll often do memory work with the kids. We might make ‘memory boxes’, where each item in the box corresponds to a happy, loving, or important memory. A similar technique is our ‘memory jar’; we fill an ordinary jar with layers of coloured sand, with each band of colour representing a memory. At the end of these projects, the child has a tangible reminder of special memories and they have control around when they look at this and who with. This helps them to work through the anger and worries they may be experiencing, and most importantly, help them readjust to a new reality.”