Focus: Frontline - SeeSaw

Graham Willgoss, graham.willgoss@haynet.com

WHAT IT IS: An Oxfordshire-based charity that provides support for grieving children, young people and their families in cases where a parent or sibling has died or is dying

WHAT IT DOES: Staff and specially trained volunteers aim to reduce the distress of bereaved children and help families and schools work through difficult times before and after the death of loved ones

HOW IT'S FUNDED: Individual donations. One project worker is funded by Macmillan Cancer Relief

"My role is to support the children on a difficult journey through this part of their lives, and we often start talking when we go on a walk with my dog, Do-Good," says Kathy Moore, Macmillan project worker at SeeSaw.

Moore works with families when someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness, often cancer, before they die. Three-year-old Do-Good (pictured), has been with SeeSaw since he was a puppy. When children find it hard to talk about their feelings, Moore uses Do-Good to break the silence.

"What's really important when working with children is that it's fun," she says. "It's not just looking at what's difficult all the time, because sometimes kids need to have fun, and that's where Do-Good comes in. He's wonderful with the kids - an entrance, really. In some senses I only get one go at it in this job, and if the children like you, you stay."

Reaching hundreds

SeeSaw consults parents before they meet the children to assess how they can best support a family. It reaches hundreds of children every year, either through one-to-one support or through training professionals to support the bereaved.

"You might meet up with a kid one day and they're not at all focused on what's going on because they're in a good place," says Moore. "What they want is a walk with the dog and a nice chat to relax. That's one of the things we help parents with. They often feel anxious that something is wrong because the child isn't immersed in grief every day - but the grieving process is different for children."

Mother of two Helen Bridgewater went to SeeSaw after her husband died.

"They were fantastic," she recalls. "They came out straight after I called. When my daughter couldn't talk to me because she didn't want to upset me, she felt better playing and talking with someone from SeeSaw."

The charity also offers a school support programme, which prepares staff for a death within the school community and helps them deal with grieving children.

SeeSaw director Liz Armstrong explains: "If a child's grief goes unresolved after the death of a parent or sibling, there's an increased risk of failing at school, youth crime, truancy and long-term mental health difficulties.

But if we can intervene with support early on, many of these problems can be avoided."

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