Posted 08 Mar 2017
by ilovelimerick correspondent Katie Glavin
The Childrens Grief Centre, located in Limerick, is a free and voluntary organisation that supports children between the ages of 4 and 18 where parents have separated, divorced or where there has been a bereavement. At the children’s grief centre, the children and young people are the core focus while also supporting the parents and taking the children through the process of grieving and dealing with their emotions in a positive way.
In 2007 while working with the Mercy Sisters, Sr Helen Culhane, who was announced the 2017 February Limerick Person of the Month, recognised that Limerick had the highest rates of marriage separation in Ireland, with little or no support services for children dealing with grief in its many forms. Sr Helen gathered a group of professionals including a school principal, a family therapist and a GP, who met and were in discussions for over a year regarding setting up the Childrens Grief Centre. After these meetings, Sr Helen applied for a leave of absence from her position at Milford Hospice to continue her work and open the Childrens Grief Centre with the help of the Mercy Sisters.
The Childrens Grief Centre is a non-government funded, free service and provides support to those who could not seek it otherwise. While the Children’s Grief Centre is running on a voluntary basis, they do require volunteers to have some form of training to be able to help and treat the children and young people availing of the service. Helen spoke about the services offered through the volunteer-run centre, the work they do, and why it is so essential to the community. She said, “Trauma stores in a young person’s body, children are like sponges and adults can forget that. The centre works through empowering people and getting parents to communicate with their children. We just want to help people through the process in the best way possible”.
The Childrens Grief Centre offer a free service that includes an average of 5 sessions. Initially, a parent or guardian will contact the grief centre and a 1 on 1 meeting with the child will be arranged with parental consent. This confidential service offers the child a safe setting where the child can express their emotions through workbooks. Most importantly the Childrens Grief Centre offers an open ear to children and young people. Sr Helen spoke about the children and young people availing of the service, she mentioned that “the one reoccurring theme is that they are looking for someone to listen.”
The Childrens Grief Project’s main focus is offering support. With this motivation in mind, Sr Helen has been consulting with a number of schools such as St Munchin’s College in Corbally and a number of primary schools. Sr Helen has helped a lot of teachers and schools to understand how they can best offer support to students who are struggling with bereavement or separation.
Sr Helen commented on the support she has given to schools through her work with the Childrens Grief Centre stating, “Teachers do wonderful work and a lot of the time they just want someone to tell them they are doing it right”.
Sr Helen emphasised the need for a free service for children enduring the process of grieving in the Limerick area. With high prices and lengthy waiting lists existing in the majority of mental health services in Ireland, the Childrens Grief Centre is steadily receiving more demand from those in need. Helen commented on this saying, “there’s a waiting list of 120, this time last year we had a waiting list of 44. It just shows that there is such a need for this service”.
The growing waiting list at the Childrens Grief Centre may account for the lack of funding and the lack of services for children available. Sr Helen commented on this saying, “I feel sad to think about being a parent, out there looking for something to help their child, but those services just aren’t there”. She went on to mention how people are becoming more aware and that she had recently given a talk to local GPs on the issue.
While the Childrens Grief Centre do receive a sum of €4,100 from Tulsa, the organisation is primarily donation funded. The centre recently set up a fundraising committee in efforts to raise the vitally needed funds to keep the centre running, to reduce the waiting list and to provide as immediate a service as possible. While they are conscious of people’s financial difficulties and do not want people to be under pressure, Katrina Morgan, a member of the fundraising committee has emphasised that no donation is too small and that every donation is welcome.