Background During the pandemic, the hospice social workers recognised that schools were supporting children affected by COVID-19. With intense media coverage about the virus and daily reporting of death tolls, the public were talking about death more openly. The team recognised that ‘children need adults to help them understand what’s going on, to help them talk about what frightens them and to help reassure them’ (The Irish Childhood Bereavement Network, 2020).
Aims Supporting children and families before and following bereavement is part of the hospice social work role. During lockdown the team supported children struggling with social isolation, missing their peers, anxiety about exams, fears for their future, and concerns for loved ones. Focus on ideas to help teachers support children in school but also whilst schools were closed felt important.
Methods The team consulted with other bereavement services, and developed three virtual workshops providing guidance on supporting children through COVID-19. The aim was to encourage schools to support pupils, during and after lockdown, and help teachers recognise the need for additional support and how to refer into bereavement services. Over 250 school and nursery staff attended the online workshops.
Results Attendees reported that the training informed their practice through:
Use of direct, compassionate language for dealing with death/and worries about death.
Strategies to help children remember loved ones.
Listening and giving children time, to make them feel safe.
Need good communication lines with parents.
The first session was recorded and added to the hospice website, information could be accessed at a later date.
Conclusions The full impact of COVID-19 on children and young people’s mental health is yet to be fully understood. Work is ongoing to support schools to develop staff skills in supporting grieving children. Also, to implement bereavement policies and school bereavement champions.
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