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Hospice of Santa Barbara Assists Children Dealing With Grief

Serious illness, death and grief are a natural part of life, and getting through it with Hospice of Santa Barbara can help people hold onto cherished memories and reflect positively on the grieving process.

In the Santa Barbara community, one in five children will experience the death of someone close to them. By age 18, one in 20 will lose one or both parents.

Hospice of Santa Barbara’s (HSB) Children & Family Services provides children’s counseling, programs and outreach designed to provide compassionate care and bereavement services through these difficult time — all at no cost to clients.

Counseling for children and their families doesn’t have to be a recollection of negative thoughts and feelings. At Hospice of Santa Barbara, toddlers, children and their families find a safe space to begin to heal and interact with others who have gone through similar ordeals.

Children and teens can develop skills from support groups that allow them to cope with their losses though therapeutic games, art, crafts and music. The skills they learn can leave them feeling cared for, nurtured and more empowered.

Parents also can share their issues and concerns in a private environment that provides comfort, common purpose and the tools needed to support family relationships. Bereavement services include individual and group counseling as well as family counseling sessions.

One unique children’s program at Hospice of Santa Barbara is a mentor program called “I Have a Friend.” It was created by the late Gail Rink, former Hospice of Santa Barbara executive director, after she overheard a young boy, who had recently lost his father, speaking to his mother.

He asked: “Will I ever feel normal again?” Rink had the spark of an idea and the mentor program was formed.

A trained adult mentor, who experienced the death of a parent or sibling when he or she was young, is matched with a child newly coping with a similar death.

The similar journey creates a special companionship with someone who truly understands the loss and related issues and obstacles that may come about as a result of the death. Their common experience can lead to communication and insights that may not be possible with family members or friends.

The benefits are two-fold as the mentor may discover and address his or her own unresolved issues of grief during the training process.

I Have a Friend mentors are living proof to grieving children that there will be hope, happiness and wholeness, and that they will be “normal” again. These relationships often last for years, even after they "graduate" from the program.

A normal week is a 2-hour visit that includes an outing or walk with the mentor and the child.
Hospice of Santa Barbara also has a weekly presence at high schools in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, Goleta and the Santa Ynez Valley. HSB provides individual counseling and peer support groups at many local public high school campuses throughout each school year.

HSB conducts its service on school campuses because this population is not able to access counseling at our office and because the school sites are where HSB can best offer the support group modality.

HSB provides debriefing and time-limited peer group support to any requesting local school experiencing a death of a student or faculty.

Through these partnerships, school counselors will identify and refer students to HSB for bereavement counseling — a therapeutic assistance toward coping with issues of grief and/or mortality.

These students may have experienced the death of family members or friends, have loved ones who have been diagnosed with a serious illnesses or may be experiencing illnesses themselves.

— Angel Pacheco and Chris Davis for Hospice of Santa Barbara.

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