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Unique program that helps grieving kids suspends referrals

Published on

Tara Jeffrey

A much in-demand grief and bereavement program for children has been forced to scale back because its fundraising avenues are tapped out.

“We’re trying to identify community partners who might be able to help,” Scott Wilkie of VON Sarnia-Lambton said of the Kids’ Circle Program, which has specialized in illness and bereavement support for kids and teens since 2006.

“But with extra demands on our agency, and an aging population, we’ve had to cut back. We’re now having to tell parents that we won’t be able to support their kids in the summer months.

“It’s such a difficult thing to do.”

The program, designed for ages four to 18 at no cost, provides one-on-one support for clients experiencing a life-threatening illness themselves, or that of a loved one, as well as other experiences of bereavement.

Originally funded by the VON Sarnia-Lambton Foundation and service groups like the Seaway Kiwanis Club, the program has continued to rely entirely on charitable dollars and local fundraising, despite a goal to eventually secure government funding.

“But ten years later, that hasn’t happened, even though the program continues to grow,” said Wilkie.

Nearly 50 local youth accessed the program last year with 400 individual sessions to help them cope with grief, a loved one’s suicide and, in some instances, their own terminal illness.

“The program is currently at capacity with service requirements exceeding available funding,” said Wilkie, adding that VON will be unable to accept referrals from June 30 to Sept. 5.

The program is unique in Sarnia-Lambton because there is no fixed time limit on how long each child or teen receives support, said Wilkie.

“Parents can be sick for months, even years, and children grieve quite a bit differently than adults,” he said. “This allows them to fully deal with grief with no time limit placed on them.”

They’ve unsuccessfully approached the Erie St. Clair Local Health Integration Network three times for assistance, and have started talks with St. Clair Child and Youth Services, with hopes of forming a partnership, he said.

“But that’s more of a long term plan… and they’re dealing with their own funding restraints as well.”

He points to rising demand in the wake of alarming teen suicides in Sarnia-Lambton and the murder of school teacher Noelle Paquette, which left many children and teens in dire need of grief supports.

“VON in Woodstock has approached us about expanding the Kids’ Circle Program there as well,” said Wilkie, noting that region’s recent spate of teen suicides. “Because they’re seeing the benefits it brings to these kids.”

Anyone looking to assist in funding, or to learn more about the Kids’ Circle Program, call VON at 519-542-2310.


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