At Willow Center, groups meet twice a month – year round. The Lewiston program meets the first and third Tuesday for an hour. Groups are delineated by age: Pre-school group (3-5 years), Primary group (6-9 years), Intermediate Group (10-13 years), and Teen Group (14-18 years). We also hold a concurrent support group for the adult caregivers/parents of the children that are attending. Groups are coordinated by mental health care professionals and trained facilitators. Upon referral to the center, an intake appointment is scheduled to get information about the child(ren), family, circumstances of the death, and to provide information/details about the program.
The Center’s objective is to provide the caring, accepting environment that greatly enriches the healing process. The Willow Center is a safe place for children and their families to cope with the death of a loved one and share their grief with others who have had a comparable loss. Grief resolution involves achievement of the following tasks for both children and adults:
According to the Children’s Grief Education Association, grief and trauma can be a detriment to learning. Learning theory suggests that only 5-6 chunks of information can be processed at one time. When the processing ability of the brain is filled with thoughts of the deceased and the necessity of managing intense emotions, little room is left for concentrating on academic demands and other memory tasks. Kids report that they feel different than the other kids at school because of their loss.
The Willow Center’s program is based on the premise of providing a safe place for kids, teens and their caregivers to share their experience of grief in a positive, supportive environment. Children are with other kids their age that have experienced a death, interacting together in activities that support expression of feelings and emotions that increase their understanding of death, loss and the process of grief, and decrease feelings of isolation associated with grief, increasing their social, emotional and academic development. This is a family focused program with the belief that to truly assist the children and teens in their process of grief, we need to engage the family/caregivers in a supportive way to build healthier coping, communication and connections for the whole family.
Our program is modeled after the nationally acclaimed Dougy Center in Portland, OR. They have conducted research which has proven that this model is successful in facilitating grief and healing in children, teens and families. It is a well known fact that bereaved children are a vulnerable population, and at risk of developing psychological, behavioral and social difficulties and dysfunction. If left unattended, grief in children can lead to depression, psychiatric problems and possible suicide as adults (Ayyash-Abdo, 2001). It has been shown through years of research that children who receive group counseling within one year of a significant loss in their lives demonstrate a statistically significant decrease in overall negative emotions than children who receive no counseling. There is also a decrease in depression and behavioral disturbances (Tonkins and Lambert, 1996). We have received positive feedback from teachers and parents of the progress students have made since attending the groups.
“The kids love to come and it has made a huge difference in their lives. Here, tears turn to smiles and hearts are mended. Thank-you – all of you – what a blessing all of you are.”
– Parent Participant