‘You’re not the only one’

Youth grief-support services coming to Sussex County

Date Published: 
March 24, 2017

Sussex County children who have suffered major a loss can now attend weekly grief counseling in Georgetown.

With so much public interest statewide, the nonprofit Supporting Kidds recently vowed to expand its Healing Pathways Program, and the Hockessin-based group this month is beginning bereavement counseling for children ages 5 to 18 across Delaware, now including Georgetown.

Families attend weekly 90-minute sessions over the course of six weeks. They will be able to learn positive coping tools and develop a sense of community support through discussion, art, movement and activities. The programs are led by trained volunteers.

Typically, they are kids who have lost a sibling, parent or other caretaker.

“The most powerful thing is sitting in a room with kids your age and realizing you’re not the only one,” said Nicole Smith, Supporting Kidds team leader. “It’s so isolating. They don’t want to tell their friend, they don’t want to bring it up. It’s isolating.”

Kids who benefit often need help understanding the finality of death in more concrete terms. Or they may benefit from having “a social network of having kids that have experienced something similar,” Smith said.

The children are divided into smaller age groups, with two adult facilitators. The curriculum has changed little over the years and is still designed specifically for the children’s developmental levels.

Kids do age-appropriate activities and talk on a basic level about what’s happening. They might share stories or learn concrete terms about death (such as what a casket is). But the overall experience is interactive, with art, activities and other fun things — not just sitting around.

“Kids need to learn how to connect their feelings to the death,” Smith said. ‘It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to be angry. And what are you doing with that?’”

Meanwhile, a parent or guardian must also attend, for additional guidance. Adults don’t get counseling, but instead learn how to help their children better cope with grief at home.

“As a parent, you’re trying to deal with how to handle your own grief. … You have to figure out how to get your kids to school … and you’re sad and angry,” Smith said. “It all happens at once.”

“This unique setting makes children feel safe and teaches them that there is support and people who truly care. My daughter named it her ‘special place,’ and she has gained confidence and is not ashamed to share her feelings. Coming here was one of the best decisions I could have made,” stated the mother of a 4-year-old participant.

Sometimes, families decide to return to the program years later, as teenagers grow and comprehend death in a new way.

“We change over time, so something you didn’t really think about the first time around really hits you differently the second time around,” Smith said.

The six-week program costs $50 per family member (including children and their guardians), but scholarships are available. Smith said many families pay less than that. (Call for details.)

The group is not considered ideal if the death was very recent, perhaps within the past six months. But everyone is different, so caregivers should call Supporting Kidds to determine if their child is ready for group counseling.

“You have to be really ready to sit in a room and talk about it. … Six months is a good general rule of thumb,” Smith said.

The Sussex County group will meet Tuesday evenings, March 28 to May 3, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sessions are at Children & Families First’s Georgetown location at 410 South Bedford Street, Georgetown.

Other groups meet in Dover, Hockessin and Wilmington. The expansion has been funded, in part, by the Carl M. Freeman Foundation.

“Just call! If you’re thinking about it, call,” Smith encouraged. “We’re a very small organization. We’re very passionate about it. We would love to talk to any family that’s just struggling. [It’s] a great resource you can call and talk.”

For details or registration on the Healing Pathways youth program, call (302) 235-5544 or email support@supportingkidds.org.

As a subsidiary of Children & Families First, the nonprofit is designed to support and educate grieving children, their families and their community.

Since its founding in 1989, the Hockessin-based Supporting Kidds has counseled more than 4,200 grieving children; provided grief education workshops to 5,000 people; developed and distributed 1,500 Survival Kits to schools; and responded to more than 1,300 requests for emergency telephone support.