By Garrett Simmons
Children can have a tough time processing grief and loss.
On top of that, there are very few opportunities for them to talk about it, especially among their peers.
With that in mind, counsellors and family support staff from Family and Community Support Services and Family Centre Lethbridge engaged in a day of training through Rainbows Canada. The training will allow counsellors and family support staff to host group sessions for young people experiencing grief throughout the FCSS coverage area, and in the City of Lethbridge.
“Rainbows is a program that allows children to meet in small groups of 5-6 to share their feelings and emotions regarding the loss they are feeling,” said Michael Fedunec, Counselling Services Supervisor for FCSS, who likened the sessions to an emotional support group for children. “That’s what makes it unique.”
FCSS is no stranger to this counselling model, as several counsellors took the training back in 2019. Then, the pandemic hit, and everything was put on hold, until this month.
On Nov. 1, 11 FCSS staff and 10 staff from the Family Centre teamed up to take training to help local counsellors understand grief and its impact on children.
“It’s really just a perfect partnership,” said Tenille Doram, Family Centre Lethbridge’s Advancement and Volunteer Manager. “It’s such an important thing to include under our umbrella of services.”
Doram added the counselling opportunity assists the Family Centre in achieving two of its main goals – prevention and early intervention.
“A lot of our programming is focused around strategies and resources that are going to help people deal with things to prevent them from becoming a bigger issue that needs more intensive intervention down the road,” she said. “Helping kids process the loss and grief piece is huge.”
Whether it is accessed through FCSS or Family Centre, the program is free to all children and their families. And while young people are the focus, counselling also brings in the important adults in their lives.
“One thing we do differently is we also add a parent component at the same time the children are participating,” said Fedunec. “Offering the program to parents allows everyone to be on the same page.”
Counselling under the Rainbows Canada model will begin in the spring of 2023, since it is a 13-week program, and organizers sought to avoid breaks over the Christmas holidays.
That timing also aligns well with the school calendar, as the program will hopefully make its way into area schools next year, as FCSS has many co-operative relationships with local elementary schools.
“We will likely start in schools and have time slots, work with teachers and run those in some small groups,” said Leanne Coquet, a counsellor with FCSS, who is based out of Raymond. “It’s really helpful for kids to know they aren’t alone in the trauma and loss they’re going through.”
Susy Hiebert, a Low-German Mennonite Family Liaison Worker for FCSS, also took the Rainbows training and sees the program’s benefit for the LGM community in Lethbridge County.
“Part of the training is actually addressing what loss is, the different areas involved and what is all covered in that,” said Hiebert, who is based in Nobleford. “As a Low German Mennonite population, we sometimes don’t realize what’s all included in that. Death is one that everyone thinks about but there’s other parts of grief that have the same impacts.”
Once the program is introduced throughout southern Alberta, it will represent an important opportunity for young people to gather once again, according to Coquet.
“I think they really enjoy the opportunity to connect with other people – especially their peers,” she said. “How people deal with grief looks very different, so it’s nice to have that support.”
For Fedunec, the sessions may also teach young people and the adults in their lives an important lesson about how grief can be processed differently.
“Sometimes, parents expect their children to behave like adults, and to handle life’s problems, losses and traumas like adults,” he said. “Because of that expectation, it’s really difficult for children to have an opportunity to recognize what they’re feeling is OK and it’s normal.”
For more information on the Rainbows Canada program, from the FCSS perspective, contact Fedunec at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To register for counselling through Family Centre Lethbridge, please call the office at 403-320-4232.