Sunshine Sessions for Bereaved Children

in Features

When somebody dies, whether from a long term illness, an accident or whether they died by suicide, those left behind can experience overwhelming emotional trauma. This can be especially true for children and it can often have devastating effects on a child’s psychological and physical behaviour.

Carla Borastero knew from personal experience how important it was to support a child along their grief journey by providing a safe space for them to talk about their emotions. “There is a massive need for early intervention and it is not just here, it is everywhere. 

With a degree in Early Years Education, Carla managed a nursery setting in the UK before working for the Preston Domestic Violence service as an Early Intervention specialist. “I relocated to Fuente de Piedra in Spain with my husband Rob and family where I did some teaching, but we went back to the UK on holiday in 2016 and sadly this was where my late husband completed suicide.” 

Carla is now married to a Gibraltarian and last year gave birth to a baby boy, but she soon realised that there was a need for child bereavement support. “It was just before lockdown when I spoke to Jackie Linares, Welfare Education Advisor at the Department of Education, and she thought it was a fantastic idea and something that was definitely lacking in Gibraltar.” Carla says that she was prepared to put all her time and energy into it but didn’t have the funds to support her idea. “I worked together with the Department of Education to devise the programme that we now deliver.”

At the moment eighty percent of referrals come from parents, with the rest from teachers, Cancer Relief, the GHA, and Children’s Psychology. “Digital marketing company PaperCloud have kindly sponsored me and have designed some great leaflets, but at the moment promotion has mostly been via word of mouth and on school websites.”

Sunshine Sessions launched in March, with sessions taking place every second Tuesday from 4 – 5.30 pm for children aged from four to twelve years of age in a Department of Education classroom in Upper Town.  “We use a lot of resources from Child Bereavement UK that we have had brought in, but it is about collating it and making it age appropriate which is what has taken lots of time and it is now in session order and I am pleased to say that it runs beautifully,” Carla explains.

Carla is ably assisted in running the sessions by colleague, and now friend, Giselle Isherwood. “We do a lot of craft activities, we talk about emotional regulation and about how to manage their negative feelings more positively,” Carla says. Grief resources include books and YouTube animated short videos such as Lucy’s Blue Day. “We undertake bereavement specific activities such as blowing bubbles to blow away our worries outside and we also ask the children to talk about their worries, write them down and ‘feed’ them into the Worry Monster’s mouth.”

Carla explains: “We know that children will often experience an increase in their worries after the death of a loved one. Sometimes children already know what they’re worried about, sometimes that worry is just a big blob of pain in their stomach and they need help finding the words to talk about it. That’s where the Worry Monster comes in.”

“We have had some Worry Monsters knitted and very kindly donated by Wendy Reeves-Russell for our current group of children. However, these are extremely time consuming to make and we would welcome any monster contributions for our Sunshine Session children.”

Results are evidenced by feedback from parents and from seeing children with their peers. “The first time they walk into the session they know why they are there and that is because someone has died and the bonds that have been formed as a result of that are amazing,” Carla states.  “We are facilitators in that we enable the children to open up and speak to each other.”

Courses run for six sessions over twelve weeks with a group of up to ten children who are dropped off by their parents or carers. “We very quickly realised that it couldn’t be a drop-in, drop-out, youth club type session because I wouldn’t be able to staff it appropriately, so Giselle and I work on a one-to-four, possibly one-to-five basis.”

Once the children have completed the programme a party is held the week after to celebrate the fact that they have met new friends. “We have a WhatsApp group and we all keep in touch – I still get phone calls and messages from parents now – and we also keep in touch with the kids.”

Sometimes parents are wrapped up in their own grief, meaning that it can be very difficult for them to help their children. “We give the children a safe space to open up and talk about the person who has died,” Carla says. “We are really conscious that we think we are being kind when we say to children that their loved one is in heaven, or that they are a star in the sky, but that is actually not helpful because they think they are going to come back, but they aren’t.” 

Going forward Carla would like to facilitate sessions for older kids as well as initiating another programme to revisit the children who have already attended sessions, but in twelve to eighteen months’ time.  

“When Rob died I managed to find resources for my girls, and although it is very sad I feel privileged that I have got the personal experience combined with a professional background that has enabled me to help the children in Gibraltar that need grief support.”

Carla also wants to mention suicide support group Walking Together for adults. “Without them I wouldn’t have been able to do the Sunshine Sessions,” she states.

More information can be found on the Sunshine Sessions Facebook page or to donate knitted Worry Monsters please contact: sunshinesessionsgib@outlook.com or 54087502 for patterns

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