Frances Kraus, palliative care social worker and St Christopher’s Candle children’s bereavement project leader, sadly died in July 2013 of cancer of the pancreas. She was the much loved wife of Adam and sister of Peter, important friend to many and a respected colleague of many, many more.
Frances was a skillful and talented social worker. Working first at the Richmond Fellowship, then managing a day care centre in London, she joined St Christopher’s Hospice social work and bereavement service in 1990. Frances had an insatiable curiosity about individuals and their strengths and frailties. She had an unswerving belief in people’s capacity for change, allied to a pragmatic realism and a sharp and professional intelligence. Throughout her career Frances displayed an absolute commitment to the vulnerable in society and to equity of access to services. She later qualified as a psychotherapist; the insights from which infused her subsequent work.
In 1998 when we finally raised funds to launch Candle, the St Christopher’s children’s bereavement project, Frances was the obvious candidate for project leader. Running this service for the last 14 years, she came into her own and in doing so made a major contribution to the field as a whole. Her realistic and rapid command of action was demonstrated in an early decision to ensure short waiting lists by focusing on developing confidence in children and families, rather than seeking a final therapeutic resolution. It was at this stage that she coined the now well-known concept of the ‘extended warranty’; the offer, following a limited number of sessions, of a ‘top up’ if and when new bereavement related issues arose.
Frances seized all opportunities to develop the competence of other professionals and other settings. The project quickly became a real community resource with two thirds of referrals for children and young people bereaved through sudden, and often violent, death. Most notable was her pioneering work in training the Metropolitan Police Family Liaison Officers, which was recognised this year by a Commander’s Commendation. This work also led to the project being involved with support efforts following the events of 9/11, the Bali bombings and the Asian Tsunami. Frances also did innovative work with the British Army with bereaved families. She was an extraordinary and empowering trainer and speaker with the gift of inspiring confidence and making difficult interventions seem possible for others.
Frances was responsible for the development of the undergraduate and post graduate childhood bereavement courses run by St Christopher’s in partnership with Help the Hospices. These unique courses have done much to support and extend the development of children’s bereavement services and those who will lead them. Students routinely spoke warmly of the importance of Frances’ role in their professional development. Frances also ran a regional support group for managers of children’s bereavement services and was a member of the national Childhood Bereavement Network Consultant Panel. Frances wrote about her insights, including co-editing a book with myself, ‘Brief Interventions for Bereaved Children’, which has gone into a second edition.
Frances was warm and revolutionary with a decidedly delinquent streak. Memorably it was Frances, on joining St Christopher’s staff, who persuaded a rather conservative Dame Cicely that the earth would not stop turning if women were permitted to wear trousers to work. Frances had the courage of her convictions and was never afraid to tell you what she thought. Lots of people have commented that this was both rare and refreshing. She was also very funny and a cartoonist of note. Frances could also be extraordinarily kind. She was always willing to discreetly and thoughtfully offer support to staff colleagues experiencing personal difficulties.
A colleague wrote that Frances had the most ‘wonderful mix of wisdom and non-conformity’. She certainly lived life at a pace and did her dying with courage and dignity. She was unique, vibrant, a one-off. She was someone who made a significant difference to the development of bereavement services for children, young people and families and to countless individuals. She has left a lasting legacy.