Meet Barnardos Bereavement Service Volunteers

We cannot shield children and teenagers from the reality of death or the pain of loss. What we can do is accompany them on their journey through grief with informed support, information and encouragement.

Posted on Tuesday 19 December 2017

Death is an inevitable part of life and grief is a universal human process. We cannot shield children and teenagers from the reality of death or the pain of loss. What we can do is accompany them on their journey through grief with informed support, information and encouragement.

Adults instinctively want to shield or protect young people from death. We can't fix or reverse what has happened but we can do our best to help them through the reality of this difficult time in an honest and open manner.

The Barnardos Bereavement Helpline (01 4732110) was established in January 1998 and operates from 10am to 12 noon, Monday -Thursday.

This Helpline service, manned by trained volunteers, is a confidential national service, available to parents /carers, professionals and the general public who may have a concern for a bereaved child.

The majority of the calls received are from parents or extended family members following a death. If there has been a terminal diagnosis some families seek support in advance of the death. Having information in advance can often minimize anxieties about the correct way to respond to a bereaved child.  Various studies have highlighted that unsupported bereavement in childhood may affect psychological development, however many bereaved children adjust to their loss without professional intervention. People in close contact with the child, be they parent, teachers, or relatives, may help to minimize the risk of problems arising, by giving age appropriate information, addressing fears and anxieties, and offering reassurance and support.

The Helpline Volunteers talk through problems and situations which the caller might find difficult, e.g. "Should I bring my child to the funeral?" "Should I let the children see the body?" "My child is asking a lot of questions which I don't know how to answer" "How do I tell my child that her mother ended her own life?"

The Helpline volunteer can explore these issues offering advice, information and support, followed up with relevant literature by post. Very often this is exactly what a caller needs to help them through a difficult time. Only one third of our callers require a therapeutic intervention which means that two thirds receive enough information and support from the volunteer to manage a difficult situation. The caller may also need support to ascertain if the child's reactions are normal or if they need further professional intervention. If that is the case, the adult caller can make the referral to the Therapeutic
Bereavement Service via the Helpline.

An ability to self-care is always important when we are reaching out to others. Every month the volunteers meet with the Helpline Coordinator for support in the work and have the social cuppa and chat. This is a vital component in the work as volunteers are working on the Helpline alone. Getting together for supervision, debriefing and support is really important, as listening to sad and possibly distressed callers can take its toll.

Barnardos are very appreciative of the time and commitment volunteers give to this vital service. The volunteers are at the coalface of the work supporting the bereaved and taking referrals. Their work is invaluable to the service.

Pictured back row (from left to right) Barbara Hayes, Clare Hodgins, Marie Carroll, Nora Bourke, Therese Slater and Margaret Diggin; seated (from left to right), Mary Lynch (Helpline Coordinator), Jamie Lucas and Emer McLoughlin.

Helpline Volunteers share their experiences

Nora Bourke, Helpline volunteer since 2004
"The title of one of the Barnardos' booklets is" Young Children grieve too".  As a person involved in education, I have spent many years observing the faces of grieving children, children traumatised or in deep shock. In the light of this, it was a dream come true to become a volunteer on the Bereavement Helpline and thus enable these children receive support.  What I like to see is that the children's needs are met in a lovely bright child friendly environment. As a volunteer I am more often inspired by the wonderful insight parents and grandparents have and their ability to seek help while they themselves are grieving.  We, volunteers have our own support system too, which is unique to Barnardos. While we are frontline support givers, we feel the strength of the support team behind us. The serious nature of bereavement is brought into perspective by mindfulness and some light hearted gatherings among ourselves."
Therese Slater, Helpline volunteer since 2013
"It is only when you listen to a caring adult worrying about a grieving child that you fully understand the vital role of the Children's Bereavement Helpline. We often forget the effects of death on a young child or a young adult. And we often forget the anxiety of the adults and guardians of the grieving children. As volunteers on the Barnardos Helpline we can listen and advise, offer support and solace. We can allay their fears and worries. These calls are always sad but the experience of being on the helpline is not a sad one but an overwhelmingly positive one. The helpline supports the parents/guardians in helping their children and in referring them on to our therapists. It is part of a process that is vital and important and it is a privilege to be a part of it."
Emer McLoughlin, volunteering since 2015
"I've been a Helpline volunteer with Barnardos Children's Bereavement Service for a few years now. I'm a retired Primary School teacher and was looking for somewhere I thought my experience might be helpful. The volunteer is the first person a caller comes in contact with when they ring the Bereavement Helpline. We never know what to expect when we answer the call. The caller may have experienced multiple traumas, be worried about children's reactions and unresolved issues, could be looking for information about the service or could be a professional seeking a referral. The Helpline volunteers undergo six weeks of excellent training followed by a period of shadowing an experienced volunteer before manning the Helpline on their own. A choice of courses is offered annually by The Irish Hospice Foundation and volunteers receive constant support from the professionals on the team. A volunteer needs to be compassionate, intuitive but not intrusive."