Sarah Popplestone-Helm, Head of Family Support at St Richard’s Hospice in Worcester, writes about supporting children in school affected by Covid-19 and bereavement.
With certain primary school years back in school since June 1st, the social work team at St Richard’s Hospice in Worcester recognised that school staff and other providers may be asked to support children and young people who have been bereaved in difficult circumstances due to Covid-19.
With the intense media coverage of the virus and daily reporting of death tolls, the general public are talking about death and grief more openly, something that the team believe has, and will continue to have a significant impact on children.
Supporting children and families before and following a bereavement is an area of work the social work team focus on as part of their role. During the Covid-19 lockdown they have supported bereaved children struggling with social isolation, missing their peers, anxiety about exams, fears for a place at university, as well as concerns for family members.
The social workers spoke with other bereavement services in the locality and in consultation set up an online workshop specifically designed for schools in Worcestershire to provide advice and guidance on supporting children through Covid-19. We reached out to schools and other providers publicising three virtual workshops via Worcester County Council for distribution in their weekly bulletin.
The aim was to support schools to support their pupils, and also help teachers to recognise those who may need additional support and ways of referring into their local bereavement service if required.
Over 80 school and nursery staff attended the first online workshop which covered the following areas:
- Impact of Covid-19 on children
- Impact on children with varying needs
- Impact specifically on bereaved children
- Covid-19 and grief
- How to support bereaved children
- Resources and useful links
- Referral process and support provided by hospices and bereavement services in the locality
Feedback from the first workshop has been positive. When asked which aspects of the training staff might incorporate into their teaching, and how the training informed their practice, we received the following responses:
- Use of direct but compassionate language for dealing with death/and worries about death.
- Strategies to help children remember loved ones.
- To listen and give them time and to make them feel safe to do this.
- Need good communication lines with parents prior to child returning to school.
- I feel much better prepared to help staff and pupils deal with death.
The full impact of COVID-19 on children and young people’s mental health, including those who are bereaved either by the loss of a loved one to COVID-19 or in other circumstances, is yet to be fully understood. Responses to the first workshop were positive, and suggests that this training will be a valuable tool for teachers and other staff working with children and young people.
Another two workshops are planned and the team have been asked to provide training to school governors to support them in their understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on children and staff within their schools.
View the first session on St Richard’s Hospice YouTube channel
For more information visit St Richard’s Hospice