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«Working with Grieving Children After Violent Death: A Guidebook for Crillle Victilll Blank Pages Removed Assistance Professionals Marlene A.Young, ...»

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Working with Grieving Children

After Violent Death:

A Guidebook for Crillle Victilll

Blank Pages Removed

Assistance Professionals

Marlene A.Young, Ph.D., J.D.

• Executive Director

National Organization for Victim Assistance

If you have issues viewing or accessing this file contact us at NCJRS.gov.

Prepared August, 1996 Under Cooperative Agreement Number 95-VF-GX-KOOI, for Office for Victims of Crime Acknowledgments

The author is grateful for the significant contributions to this publication made by our advisors:

Robert Pynoos, Ph.D., ofthe University of Cali fomi a at Los Angeles, and Karen Thoben, Ed.D., ofthe Prince Georges County Public School System in suburban Maryland. We appreciate the creative efforts ofHr Productions, Washington, D.C., producers ofthe video that accompanies this Guidebook. '.

Special thanks to COPSKids, a national organization which supports children of slain law enforcement officers, for allowing NOVA to "pilot test" many ofthe activities in this Guidebook at their annual meeting in May of 1996 at the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, VA.

Also contributing many useful suggestions to the final draft were Marti Speights, Director of the Special Projects Division at OVC, and Duane Ragan, PhD., a Program Specialist in that Division.

NOVA, of course, assumes full responsibility for the Guide and the accompanying video, and any opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those ofOVC.

Our thanks to all ofthe individuals and to the many programs who responded to our request for information about services available throughout the United States for grieving children. Many people took the time to send us extremely useful written material and many also spent time with us on the phone to make sure we had the information we needed. Their enthusiasm for the project was inspirational.

About the Organizations National Organization for Victim Assistance The National Organization for Victim Assistance is a private, non-profit membership organization of victim and witness assistance practitioners, victim service programs, criminal justice professionals, researchers, former victims, health and mental health professionals, clergy members, and others commit- ted to the recognition and implementation of victim rights. NOVA's activities are guided by four pur- poses: national advocacy, providing direct crisis services to victims, serving as an educational resource to victim assistance

–  –  –

Office for Victims of Crime The Office for Victims of Crime was established by the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) to serve as the Federal government's chief advocate for America's crime victims. OVC administers many formula and discretionary grants for programs designed to benefit victims, provides training for diverse professionals who work with crime victims, and develops projects to enhance victims' rights and services. Its mission is to provide victims with justice and healing. To obtain additional copies of this Guidebook or

for more information about OVC, contact:

Office for Victims of Crime Office of Justice Programs

Working with Grieving Children After Violent Death:

A Guidebook for Crime Victim Assistance Professionals

–  –  –

Children's Books About Death

Form for Evaluating Guidebook

Working with Grieving Children After Violent Death:

A Guidebook for Crime Victim Assistance Professionals

–  –  –

Time stopped for them all when violent death tore their young lives apart in a pain that will live forever.

I. Introduction Jim, Teny, Shelley, Bobby, Vanessa and Kenny are representative ofthe hundreds of thousands of children who experience traumatic death each year. It is estimated that as many as twenty percent of today's children will have survived the death of a parent by the end of high school; eleven children a day are killed by guns in accidents, suicides, and murders; an average offour students a year die in a school system of6,000 students; and that a child by the age of 14 will have witnessed 18,000 deaths-mostly violent murders on television. (Linda Goldman, Life and Loss: A Guide to Grieving Children, 1994) These figures do not begin to account for the additional deaths of friends or loved ones caused by drunk driving crashes or violent deaths witnessed in the streets of our cities.

Victim assistance professionals deal with crime, violence and trauma routinely as part oftheir everyday work. Many respond to crisis calls at the scenes of crime and most have case loads in the criminal justice system. Training and education is critical in order to provide them with the knowledge and skills they need in order to provide quality service. It is also important for their own mental health as they confront the pain and anguish caused by crime.

Perhaps some of the most difficult cases for victim assistance professionals are those in which they provide assistance to children and adolescents. Crime seems particularly cruel when it is perpetrated on the young. The devastation left in its wake after the murder of a friend, family member or acquaintance of children can last a lifetime. Victim assistance professionals are not expected to provide therapy or long-term grief counseling for children who have survived traumatic death, but some help with death notification and many provide guidance and comfort as children talk about their reactions, begin the mourning process and develop ways of remembering their loved ones.

This guidebook is not a training manual.

• • It is designed to serve as a quick r~ference for victim assistance professionals in their work with children, parents, school teachers and counselors, clergy members and others as they address the needs of grieving children.

• It summarizes the state of knowledge ongrieJand trauma reactions ojchildren, suggests methods and activities for intervention and supportive counseling, and presents sample age-specific support group curricula.

• It outlines a sample protocol for victim assistance programs and others who work with children to use to establish guidelines for responding directly to grieving children.

II. Background "Nobody is born with a genetic diathesis to psychic trauma. Ifyou scare a child badly enough, he will be traumatized-plain and simple. But ifyou combine the trauma with a death or a new disability, then you will see depression, paranormal thinking, and/ or character change - count on it. " - Lenore Terr Death is a difficult concept to understand and accept for adults and children alike. The end of life can be conceptualized in many ways, but the permanency ofloss and the dying process cannot be explained until it is experienced. When a natural death occurs at the end of a long life, it may be expected and preparations made to adjust to the ultimate loss. Grief over the deceased may be painful and prolonged, but there has been time before death to consider its consequences for those who continue to live. When death is sudden and complicated by trauma, there is no time to adapt to the shock and pain of separation and finality. Sorrow may be a fundamental experience but the experience of extraordinary crisis may be equally overwhelming. The inability to make sense out of the death, to understand why it happened, and to comprehend how it has interrupted 1ife can frustrate, anger and drive survivors to despair.

Children are particularly susceptible to the impact of traumatic death for several reasons. Children do not deny trauma; rather, they tend to record its full horror and impact. Trauma is terrorizing to them, rendering them helpless and unprotected. Death is unfamiliar. Their coping skills are often underdeveloped. They are still in the process of developing their own personalities and identities. They often do not have spiritual resources on which to rely.

Adult caregivers are critical in helping children through the trauma of violent death as well as the grieving process. Yet, many adults are unprepared for violent death themselves. Adult caregivers must consider their own reactions to death and trauma carefully before working with grieving children.

After caregivers consider their own reactions, they should learn as much as they can about the reactions of children, and explore resources and techniques to provide assistance to the grieving child.

III. Preparation of the Caregiver This section is not designed as a primer on grief and trauma reactions. It is expected that caregivers who are working with children will have basic education and training on griefand trauma issues. Rather, the section is included in this guidebook to assist caregivers in clarifYing their own responses to grief and trauma.

A. Grief and Loss Most adults have lived through the death of someone they know. They realize the shock of recognition that they will never see that person again and often have endured disturbing thoughts concerning the dying process. But many consciously put aside their sorrow in order to "go on" with life and to maintain everyday functioning. As a result, many adults carry with them the pain of unresolved grief. Such grief may erupt unexpectedly when an individual is exposed to situations that remind him or her ofthe death and the loss. Even when individuals have made an effort to confront past deaths and actively mourn their losses, potent memories may be resurrected when they encounter other deaths. It is both unrealistic and undesirable to try to extinguish such memories and their consequences.

The wisdom of Deitrich Bonhoeffer is compelling on this point

–  –  –

Caregivers should take the time and effort to explore their own losses and the consequent grief in order to be able to control possible intrusive recollections which may interfere with their ability to be helpful to those they are trying to help in the present. To facilitate this exploration, the following process may be useful. The process can be used with caregivers in training as a group or by individual caregivers in private. Caregivers should try to put their thoughts or memories into verbal or written responses because it helps give concrete fonn to their emotions and reactions.

I. Remember at least one of the most significant deaths in your lifetime. [It is useful for caregivers to identifY all significant deaths they have survived, ifthey remember more than one.] With

each death, try to:

c. Remember reactions you had when you learned of the death. Describe those reactions.

d. Remember what you and others did in the first twenty-four hours after you learned of the death. Try to develop a chronology of what happened. Describe any particularly powerful memories and the impact ofthose events.

e. Remember what you did from the time of notification until the funeral, burial or memorial service. Try to develop a chronology of what happened. Describe any particularly powerful memories and the impact ofthose events.

–  –  –

b. Confusion and Protest- Did you or others become angry about the death or try to argue about its reality? Did you or others become angry with what happened after the death? Did you or others feel anger at yourselves because of how or why the person died, or because of guilt or reliefat the person's death?

–  –  –

d. Detachment-Was it difficult to find energy to do things or to become emotionally involved with other people or current events in your life?

e. Integration or Resolution-Do you remember a time when you realized that you could acknowledge what happened and knew that you were going to go on with life? Did you make changes in your attitudes, values, goals, behaviors, or lifestyle because ofthe person's death?

–  –  –

8. Describe how your experience of death affects the way you live your everyday life today.

B. Trauma and Violence "Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to l([e. "

-Judith Hemlan Caregivers who have experienced trauma may have sought help or found internal resources that gave them the strength to reconstruct their senses of safety, autonomy, trust, self-esteem, and ability to establish relationships with others. Caregivers who have not experienced trauma may yet have their lives tested. In either case, before caregivers begin to help trauma survivors, it is important to review their understanding of the impact of trauma and the processes of recovery. For those caregivers who have experienced trauma, it is also critical to identifY vestiges ofthe traumatic experience that may interfere with their ability to provide care or non-judgmental support to victims.

The following exercise can be helpful in understanding and identifYing trauma issues which may concern the caregiver. As indicated above, the exercise can be used with caregivers in training as a group or by individual caregivers in private. Caregivers should try to put their thoughts or memories into verbal or written responses because it helps give concrete form to their emotions and reactions.

1. Remember a violent event that was traumatic for you or someone you loved. As you

remember, try to:

a. Describe where you were, who you were with, and what you remember seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, or doing in your immediate reaction to the trauma.

b. Describe what happened immediately following the traumatic event and your reactions and thoughts.

c. Develop a chronology ofwhat happened and describe any particularly powerful memories and the impact of those events.

d. Describe what has happened since the trauma and how those events have affected your life today.

2. As you think or talk about your memories, askyourselfhow those memories relate to what is known as a common pattern oftrauma reactions.

a. Shock and disbeli~f- Did you immediately understand what had happened? Did your sense oftime change; e.g., did things seem to happen slowly or very quickly?

–  –  –

c. Fear-Were you frightened? Did you fear for your life or the lives of others?

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