• Date awarded: September 2022
  • Awarded value: £5,646
  • Fund: Victoria Hospital General Fund
  • Location: Falkland Estate, Falkland, Fife
Montage of children's art created highlighting the child bereavement project funded by Fife Health Charity.

It’s a sobering statistic and sad reality that one child in every UK classroom under the age of 16 has experienced bereavement of a parent or sibling, with 44,000 children in the UK bereaved of a parent every year. Within Fife, Fife Health Charity helps young people deal with the impact of parental bereavement by funding the work of the Children and Families team at Fife Specialist Palliative Care.

NHS Fife is unique in providing early intervention, home, hospice and hospital care and psychosocial and bereavement services by one integrated team offering a whole team approach to family care where an adult has a life limiting disease.

The Fife Specialist Palliative Care service sits alongside medical, nursing, counselling and other AHP specialists, and is enabled by its close alliance with NHS Fife Oncology teams, ICU, ICJ and Maggie’s Centre to provide early intervention and support for parents and carers preparing themselves and their children for advanced disease, death and bereavement.

Bereavement starts before death and is a lifelong process for children who are parentally bereaved. The specialist early intervention clinic offered by the service and Children and Families team helps parents and carers to start preparing themselves to support their children.  In practice support and counselling is offered fairly intensively before the death and may carry on for two to three years.

While a lot of support is offered by communities, the Children and Families team have found that families are keen to meet other people who fully understand their experience and that children need to feel less alone with their experience of parental bereavement. In meeting those needs, the team offers a reflexive approach, believing that every child, young person and parent teaches something about best how to offer support. Ongoing evaluation and research are also built into the services offered by Fife Specialist Palliative Care and the Children and Families team.

Research has shown that social interaction is of particular importance for children and teenagers who are adapting to parental death with regards to their contemporary wellbeing and long term development. Much of the focus of funding from Fife Health Charity to date has been on supporting a pilot project and rolling programme organised by the Children and Families team that use nature as a therapeutic space to develop communication skills, build resilience, develop emotional expression and have fun.

Towards the end of 2022, Fife Health Charity supported two important events as part of the annual Children’s Grief Awareness Week. Over one weekend in late November, children and teenagers from across Fife took part in two Sharing Shapes events held outdoors under a stretch tent at Falkland Estate with the theme of What Helps?.

Now in its seventh year, Children’s Grief Awareness Week UK is designed to raise awareness of bereaved children and young people throughout the country and highlight how providing free professional support to those affected can make the world of difference to their future.

The outdoor events enabled the young participants to take time out to share their experience with other children and families. One of the key activities was the opportunity to illustrate how they have managed their grief by expressing it in a sharing shape. All the participants were given a pentagon shape and asked to create a picture of what has helped them cope with their bereavement. The shapes were then shared and compiled into a mural.

Children’s Grief Awareness Week also reminds us that children and young people need the understanding of the people that matter to them - their family, friends, local community, teachers and youth coaches. As the Children and Families team at Fife Specialist Palliative Care advises, everyone can help support bereaved children and young people in Fife by listening to them, going at their pace, and not being frightened to talk about death.

The Difference Our Funding is Making

Funding from Fife Health Charity is enabling the Children and Families team to run uniquely tailored and therapeutically informed groups for families which reflect their specific needs.

The COVID-19 pandemic offered both challenge and opportunity in meeting the needs of the families and children using the service. Virtual clinics, evening clinics, early morning clinics, drive-by consultations, garden visits and outdoor groups were all positive solutions. Children and young people reported feeling more isolated and struggling with their wellbeing, but also were often more  comfortable with the control offered by virtual sessions. The service also found that outdoor workshops appealed to many.

In 2022, funding from Fife Health Charity enabled the Children and Families team to move their services outdoors and develop group choices, with the family resilience programme, parents’ groups and teen groups all moving their meetings and workshops outdoors on a permanent basis.

Being able to develop and deliver such a child and family centred approach within a safe outdoors environment enhances health and well being, helps to build personal resilence and, equally importantly, offers a fun respite from the pressures children, young people and their families face in dealing with parental bereavement.

The projects funded by Fife Health Charity have enabled young people to access and spend time in nature with others of the same age who have experienced similar loss. Being guided and supported by experienced practitioners and helping them to connect to each other and nature helps to improve the participants’ health and wellbeing beyond the event they have attended and the lifetime of the project.