Children's Wellbeing: Children's Bereavement Initiative

What if children in rural, impoverished areas were provided materials to aid in dealing with the death of a parent or loved one?

Photo of Ashley Brasington
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Working with Covenant Care, a local non-profit, hospice care provider in North Florida and Southeast Alabama, has afforded the opportunity to see the struggle that local agencies endure in rural regions that have a high poverty rate. Witnessing the barren office of the bereavement counselor has stirred the motivation to acquire funds to buy supplies to initiate therapeutic play, creative counseling, and age appropriate games to serve the children’s whole selves.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

I am a self-identified caucasian female of a predominately European descent.

Website

https://www.choosecovenant.org/hospice

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Florida

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Pensacola, Florida

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Alabama

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Covenant Care is an existing non-profit, hospice agency that provides bereavement care to all ages. The primary office in Alabama used to provide children’s bereavement care is located in Dothan. The Southeast region of Alabama far exceed the national poverty rate. The Dothan, Alabama, office provides care to the surrounding counties, including: Houston, Henry, Barbour, Dale, and Geneva Counties.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Caring for children’s emotional wellbeing is essential. The ramifications of living in a rural area with minimal funding for children’s emotional care are difficult. Death is an inevitable component to the lifecycle. The materials and supplies needed to nurture children's emotional stability through bereavement care is imperative. The set standard competencies are already in place. The licensed, MSW bereavement professionals are already in place. The lack of funds for children’s bereavement materials persist because children's programs are unfunded by insurance and Medicare providers. This opportunity to acquire funding for materials is targeting the need for children’s health to be taken into consideration. If Covenant Care is able to acquire the funding for additional children’s materials, it will enable caregiving adults to care for children’s emotional stability in our community.

    Covenant Care, founded in 1983, is one of the largest and most comprehensive freestanding, unaffiliated hospices in the nation.  Serving over fifty counties in the Florida Panhandle and Southern Alabama, Covenant’s geographic area includes some of the most rural and impoverished regions of both states.  

    The mission is to provide palliative care to people with life-limiting illnesses and to support their families, including children, for at least 13 months after the death of our patient.  We serve many disabled children, including those who are themselves dying, those with a serious chronic illness such as diabetes or sickle cell who are also receiving aggressive care, and through our bereavement services, children and adolescents who have suffered a loss.

    The Children’s Bereavement Initiative is birthed through the realization that Covenant Care does not only serve elderly patients. Children experience and process grief in different ways than adults, and Covenant Care staff members are equipped to handle their special needs with innovative programs and services that help kids feel like kids again. There are many children throughout each community that can benefit from support. Covenant Care has developed Covenant Kids, a special program offering services for both children that have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and children that have suffered a loss. This program offers a solution to the gap in children's bereavement care and overall wellbeing in our communities. 

    According to Dr. Wolfelt, a leading expert in children's bereavement, America is a "grief avoidant" society. Most people are afraid to feel the pain of grief and, in turn, shelter their children from grief instead of providing a comforting environment where children feel safe to express their sorrow through loss. The resulting atmosphere is one where children feel like it is "bad" to feel sad and they feel should hastily dismiss their sad emotions. There are strong expectations in the American society to feel happy again quite quickly and this demeanor promotes the disguise of sorrow. Allowing children to express grief in a healthy environment with adequate support promotes children's wellbeing in every facet.

    The counties in our rural region are seeking additional grants to meet the need for supplies to handle children’s grief counseling with a licensed MSW. The poverty rate in this area is much higher than the national average. Access to the statistics for children’s bereavement within the area are provided by Covenant Care. Covenant Care is in need of bereavement materials for their child clients. Covenant Care always strives to make sure their needs do not exceed their supplies. The needed supplies would consist of materials required for therapeutic play for children who are terminally ill or grieving, reading materials for children as well as caregiving adults for grieving children, and items needed for art, puppetry, games and stories to aid in coping with a terminal illness or the loss of a parent or loved one. Covenant Care is dedicated to helping children develop a strong sense of self, purpose and belonging through its specialized grief program.

    The most influential gift that Covenant Care can give to a child and their family is a free resource kit called a "Butterfly Bag."Covenant Kids is proud to offer age-appropriate Butterfly Bags to children working through the loss of a loved one. Inside our bags, kids find activities and resources designed to help them explore and communicate their feelings in healthy ways. This resource bag is packed full with books, journals, education, and fun items for children and their caregivers who are grieving. Covenant Care hand-delivers each bag to the child and family, and goes through the contents of the bag with the caregiver and talks to them about how to use the contents. The licensed MSW counselor may answer any questions the family and child may have and this counselor is available for follow-up questions and concerns. The "Butterfly Bags" have allowed caregivers and grieving children to feel equipped to better handle their grief. The "Butterfly Bags" support the idea that grief is a natural response to loss, and children who are supported in a healthy way generally respond best in their own environment surrounded by loving family members and friends. 

    Talking to children about death and dying can be difficult and confusing. Adult caregivers may be distracted and overwhelmed with caring for their dying loved one, and not always well equipped to discuss death and loss with children in terms they can understand. The book Scarlet Says Good-Bye is designed to help bridge this gap. This engaging activity resource created for children 12 years old or under follows the journey of Scarlet, a little girl whose grandfather enters hospice. The last part of the book, filled with puzzles, free space and other activities, is dedicated to creating a lasting memory and legacy for the child. This resource is provided free of charge to our patients and families.

Providing specialized bereavement counseling is Covenant Care's top priority. 



Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Education

Year Founded

1983

Project Stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages, and has demonstrated success)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

When a child loses a loved one, it can feel like a big, heavy rock they can’t get their arms around. But as they talk and reflect, it becomes a pebble small enough to carry in their pocket. It’s always with them, but it doesn’t weigh them down. Covenant Care's counselors utilize art, nature, and therapeutic games and activities, enabling children to discover a new sense of normalcy in a time that feels anything but normal. Children might paint the “Tree of Life.” As the branches come down to touch the roots, they see in beautiful colors that everything is connected – and death is a normal part of life. Covenant's staff has seen it all, and they are equipped to handle even the most challenging situations with grace and hope.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

The Dothan, Alabama, Covenant Care office has one licensed MSW Bereavement Counselor, Mrs. January McKeithan. Mrs. McKeithan sees approximately 30 child patients a year in her office and visits many more in the surrounding communities. Funding for supplies that promote Covenant Kids provide therapeutic healing that could last for years if taken care of properly. Resources that provide funding for books, art supplies, puppets, games, journals and more, can grant grieving families and children with eased anxiety and additionally promote all dimensions of children's wellbeing. The provisions for "Butterfly Bags" come from grant funding. Programs such as the Butterfly Bag project, are unfunded and rely heavily on grants and gifts from sponsors and individual donors. We also have a strong base of volunteers who join us in our efforts to make life better for sick or suffering children.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • less than $1k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The budget for children's bereavement supplies is provided by grant funding and donations from the community. There is no expense budget provided for the Bereavement Counselor in Dothan, Alabama. The budget from Covenant Care provides the counselor with an hourly wage as well as gas and mileage. Continued efforts are being made to bring this need to light in our community. Covenant Care continues to seek financial support each year.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

In our "grief avoidant" culture, there are few resources for children's bereavement counseling and education. There are other local hospice agencies, but they have also experienced the same problems in handling the grief of children with the loss of a loved one. Many times, the grief of a child manifests itself into other behaviors that require counseling, but the root cause of the grief emotions are often left unresolved. Our community can participate in innovative methods of counseling that promote a strong sense of self and acceptance of the tangled web of emotions that grief carries.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

In urban areas and populations with a lower poverty rate there are many more opportunities for children to receive counseling and care. In rural, poverty ridden areas, such as the Southeast corner of Alabama, the communities are desperate for innovative education for grief care. Families are ill-equipped to handle the bereavement care of children. Any time our educators have an opportunity to inform families of an improved methodology, we all benefit. A shift in grief care is taking place in other cultures and we need to embrace new concepts of bereavement for children in our communities.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Other

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Dr. Denise Green, PIP, Troy University, Dothan, AL, Department of Human Services and Social Work

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 25%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 25%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 50%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 0%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 0%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 80%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 20%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 80%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 20%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 20%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 40%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 40%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 50%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 75%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 100%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 50%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%

1 comment

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Photo of Noa
Team

Hi Ashley,



Thank you for sharing your work in hospice care and healthy bereavement with the Children’s Wellbeing initiative. After reading your entry, I understand your work as providing hospice care to patients of all ages and providing support to their families throughout the difficult end of life stage and bereavement process. Your emphasis on healthy bereavement and support is especially necessary in our grief-averse society and can undoubtedly have a lasting impact on a child experiencing such a difficult time.

I have just a few comments and questions. 1) Consider explaining what “children’s materials” mean earlier on. I understood the need for greater funding for these materials immediately but without knowing what the “materials” were exactly. 2) What is the impact of the children’s materials? I think this question needs to be more concretely explained. In other words, why is funding for these materials so important? It’s a bit tricky to put this impact in words but it could go a long way in helping the reader understand the importance of funding for the materials. Perhaps cite another expert or study to illustrate how having adequate support positively affects children’s’ wellbeing. Thanks again for sharing!