Adapting bereavement services for children and young people in Birmingham

In my role as children and youth bereavement worker at Cruse Bereavement Care and in celebration of providing forty years of bereavement support in Birmingham I wrote these reflections in 2017 about how Cruse Bereavement Care are leading the way and adapting bereavement services for children and young people in Birmingham.

How have children’s lives changed over the last 40 years?

Back in 1977, families were sculpted towards a more ‘traditional family model’ headed by dad as the old-style breadwinner and mum having the customary role of housekeeper and carer. Generally, children would return home from school to be greeted by mum who would have spent the day cleaning the house and preparing the evening meal which would be enjoyed by the whole family sat around the table. This would be a time to reconnect and find out more about each others day.

Children could be seen playing ‘kerby’, ‘British Bulldog’ or riding bikes as they raced around the estate. It was not unusual for Nan and grandad to live two roads away and for children to be dragged around various aunts and uncles to visit at weekend’s because ‘it was respectful’. In the event of death, there was always an older relative or neighbour who took charge of caring for the deceased and carried out rituals like laying out the body and ensuring the family were cared for and fed. Children were rarely involved in these rituals instead shooed outside to play.

Life is very different for children these days, they are more likely to return home from school to a note pinned to their microwavable dinner. By the age of 14, they may spend up to two hours alone at home each day with little opportunity to reconnect with other family members. They are more likely to be ‘looked after’ by ‘new media’; spending up to three hours a day online. In the event of a death and in need of information young people are more likely to ‘google it’.

What are the challenges and how are we adapting children’s bereavement services in 2017 to meet those challenges?

Birmingham is a vibrant, multi cultural hub adding richness and diversity to our wonderful metropolis. In our multi faith city it has been reported that up to 108 languages are spoken which is amazing but challenging for those delivering bereavement services. Difficulties are exacerbated by those ‘hard to reach’ groups of people who find it difficult to access support because of environmental, societal or attitudinal barriers due to disabilities for example. Cruse Bereavement Care are rising to this challenge by recruiting bereavement volunteers that reflect the multi faith/multi cultural citizens that they serve. They provide their volunteers with development opportunities and train them to work with interpreters as they endeavour to provide a bereavement service fit for our city’s children.

As mentioned above, our children and young people are more tech savvy than ever before. They educate and socialise online; it is their preferred medium of choice. This virtual reality that they exist in has perhaps resulted in an eradication of social skills needed for communicating in the real world, so we need to be brave and venture into their world. To meet this need Cruse have set up an email service which enables young people to contact a bereavement support volunteer for emotional support and a safe space to explore their feelings from the comfort of their home. This way of working with young people opens an avenue for those who are not able to travel into the city centre for support and for other groups of people who for one reason or another cannot. In addition, Cruse Bereavement Care are getting better at shouting out on social media about what they are doing, using Facebook and Twitter. As well as offering online support, advice and guidance on their website that has been designed by young people for young people.

Cruse in Birmingham are receiving more and more enquiries from schools, children’s services, mental health teams and other partners for requests for help, support and guidance when working with children and grief. As well as offering support over the telephone, we go into schools and offer immediate support following a sudden death of a teacher or student.

This year alone, Cruse has provided support for those young people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, the Manchester Arena terrorist attack and those in London too in addition to regular services which places a strain on already stretched resources.

Another challenge faced by Cruse Bereavement Care in Birmingham is the increase in clients seeking support and presenting with more complex issues than ever experienced before. It is not unusual to support young people with a composite history of abuse, mental health illness and bereavement. To address these multifaceted needs bereavement support workers are provided with continuous personal development opportunities to enable them to build their skill set and offer the very best support to young people in Birmingham. Cruse Bereavement Care are very skilled at what they do, and this provides another issue in the form of ever growing waiting lists. They are currently confronting this obstacle with the provision of parent support groups in the centre of Birmingham. Considering the breakdown in social cohesion that was mentioned earlier, it is their aim to bring the family back together by supporting parents to be comfortable with talking to their children about death and bereavement even though they are going through a difficult time too. Group support is something that is done well in Birmingham Cruse and they continue to build on previous successes to support the adults, children and young people of our city.

As I reflect on the progress made in bereavement services to children and young people in Birmingham, I am honoured to be part of its progressive approach and how much has been achieved but the reality is that Cruse Bereavement Care need more volunteers and ongoing financial support to enable them to continue their vital work delivered free of charge at point of contact.

Lisa continues to work with bereaved children and families in Birmingham and is currently working on the support team for those impacted by the current inquest into the deaths of 21 people who died as a result of an IRA bomb attack on 21st November 1974 in the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town public houses .

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