“Any child old enough to laugh and experience pleasure can also experience grief and trauma.” This opinion epitomizes a founding principle of Stepping Stones, our specialized grief support program for children and their loved ones,” said Aja Michael, MSW, Yolo Hospice Stepping Stones Coordinator. Yolo Hospice’s Stepping Stones program, established in 2001, is specifically designed to help children, teens, and their families cope with grief. The program has recently adapted and expanded to meet the diverse needs of our community’s families. The newest program upgrade embraces the beliefs that: grief affects even the youngest of children; children and teens grieve differently from adults and need a forum that supports their process; and entire families are impacted by loss.
“We conducted an extensive investigation of potential enhancements for our Stepping Stones program in order to provide the best possible format for grieving families,” said Denise Rose, Yolo Hospice Bereavement Services Manager. “Though several effective models exist, The Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon was the most inspiring model we found. The Dougy Center has received national and international acclaim for pioneering the peer support model. The Dougy Center’s format also creates an environment of grief support and education that allows the child to direct his or her own healing process. Another enhancement includes increased availability of the support group. Stepping Stones will now have weekly sessions on a year round basis.
[pullquote2 quotes=”true” align=”left” textColor=”#a8b533″]Families will have the opportunity to be more involved in the program. Members of the family, regardless of their age, will have an opportunity to attend a grief support group that is designed specifically for their needs.[/pullquote2]
“Families will have the opportunity to be more involved in the program,” said Rose. “Parents/guardians will register their children, and attend a program orientation. Members of the family, regardless of their age, will have an opportunity to attend a grief support group that is designed specifically for their needs.”
The adult grief support group creates the opportunity for parents/guardians to address their own grief while learning tools to help their children. Parenting through grief can be very challenging, especially determining what to do and how to be. Parents struggle to distinguish between normal grief reactions of children and typical childhood acting out. Increased parental participation can be critical to supporting the familial relationship through coping with loss. These concepts may be explored by participants with the support of the group facilitator.
Simultaneously, children will be engaged in their own support process. Children, ages 6 to 12, comprise one group that will have opportunities to express themselves through art and play, including, puppets, a sand tray, costumes, drawing, clay work, and construction toys. The tools and toys they use are all carefully chosen to enable the children to explore what is most troubling to them.
Teens, ages 13 to 17, need to express themselves differently, and will have access to age appropriate tools to help them process their grief. In addition to group discussion, items such as white boards, art, music, construction projects, journaling, poetry, games, and even physical activities will be available.
The new Stepping Stones format allows children and teens to participate as long as they may need. Each meeting of the Stepping Stones group will begin with Opening Circle led by trained facilitators followed by the opportunity for group members to share thoughts and experiences. Following Open Circle, children will be able to choose from a variety of activities allowing them the time to process their experiences at their own pace.
[pullquote2 quotes=”true” align=”right” textColor=”#a8b533″]They can set their own pace and largely choose how to express themselves. Their worlds have been turned upside down by death. I think it must feel very powerless to be a grieving child. This program gives them back some control.[/pullquote2]
They will learn that they are not alone in their grief experiences, that a wide range of emotions is normal, and that giving and receiving support from peers can be very healing. “Possibly, the most important thing the new format does is give control to the children and teens,” said Michael. “They can set their own pace and largely choose how to express themselves. Their worlds have been turned upside down by death. I think it must feel very powerless to be a grieving child. This program gives them back some control.”
The enhancements to our Stepping Stones program are innovative, empowering for all family members, and further enable Yolo Hospice to meet the increasing community need for grief support. The Stepping Stones program will be held every Thursday evening beginning in March. The children (6-12) and teens (13-17) will meet on alternate Thursdays. In addition, daytime groups for young children, “Littles” (3-5) are available. In the coming months we will add a group for young adults (18-25). Participants may join the groups at any time, but must pre-register. Parents/guardians will be asked to attend an orientation with their child. For more information or to register, please call (530) 601-5756 or visit the website at www.yolohospice.org