Rennie Grove Hospice Care has a five-strong team of experienced staff members who offer support to members of patients’ families, both during the illness and in bereavement.
Karen Neill is a Children’s and Family Support Therapist and travels across the whole Rennie Grove catchment supporting children and their parents. Here she describes a typical day:
“I check my emails first thing and allocate any new referrals to one of my team of six support volunteers. They provide support as often as required, either face-to-face or over the telephone, depending on the client’s wishes.
“Often in the mornings I’ll have a school support visit scheduled where I’ll meet with a pupil on the school premises. This is designed to help them express and work through what they’re feeling when a family member is ill and being cared for by our nurses. Depending on the pupil’s age, we might look at Blob feeling cards, which are a creative way to describe how you’ve been feeling.
“It’s not unusual for children to feel angry, so we’ll talk about finding a safe way to express and manage these angry feelings. With younger children we might make a scream box together using an empty cereal box filled with cotton wool and a cardboard kitchen roll tube. The child can decorate the box then take it home. The idea is that they can scream into the tube to give them a release when they feel angry.”
Part of Karen’s work also involves talking with teachers, offering advice and guidance on how to support a bereaved child or one whose parent or sibling is ill. She also offers support to parents of the charity’s paediatric patients. In some cases this might be helping a mum or dad cope with siblings’ reactions to a child’s illness.
“Sometimes a sibling can feel left out because a parent has to spend so much time caring for the child who is ill. I work with parents to identify ways they can free up time to involve all the family, also talking about how to answer children’s questions about illness and death,” she said.
Karen also meets regularly with her volunteers, providing supervision and opportunities to debrief. She explained: “Supervision is a way of ensuring that our amazing volunteers receive the support they need to carry out their roles effectively. It gives them the opportunity to share best practice and talk through different ways of managing challenging situations that arise in the course of the support they provide to children. For example, someone might be working with a teenager who does not want to talk or share his feelings. Meeting as a group means we can all make suggestions about different ways of drawing him out.”
Karen and her colleagues are in daily contact with the Rennie Grove nurses too, offering advice and providing resources to help with the questions and concerns raised by the family members of current patients. She also offers support for family members sometimes many years after a patient has passed away. “Some people are referred to us immediately following a bereavement, but others might ask for help years later,” explained Karen. “Often a life-changing event can trigger emotions about the loss of a loved one and it’s our job to make sure we meet family members’ needs whenever they arise. This might mean helping a seven-year-old who lost her mum when she was only four – or supporting a new parent who lost their own parent in their teens.”
Karen added: “It is a great privilege to support children and families through some of their hardest challenges. I am continually blown away by the strength of the human spirit and being able to witness children build on their resilience and capacity to adapt and grow through these challenges is immensely rewarding. I appreciate working in a supportive team and organisation and am excited about the opportunity to be able to introduce new ideas which I believe will be beneficial for so many children.”