Healing for families in the RGV

Several years ago one of my young daughter’s best friends lost her mother to cancer.

The then 6-year-old girl had a large extended family, a loving father and a lot of support from teachers and family friends. They didn’t struggle financially and she was given time to go through grieving. Yet still she was visibly withdrawn, anxious and fearful for some time after her mother’s death, and had trouble focusing in school, sleeping and maintaining interest her usual activities.

She is doing well now, several years later, but seeing the impact of that loss on her life made me think about all of the children who don’t have that kind of support system, or even so, struggle their way through loss feeling very alone.

Unresolved grief in children can lead to physical and behavioral health issues and impact academic performance.

Up to now there were very limited services for kids experiencing bereavement, but the Rio Grande Valley is fortunate to welcome a new center which will provide just that for our local families. The Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas in San Antonio, met with a group of concerned professionals (social workers, counselors, clergy, and educators) in the Rio Grande Valley in an effort to establish services for the families of grieving children in our area.

For 20 years, the Center in San Antonio has been the sole provider of ongoing, youth-focused grief support in the region and the surrounding area. Services are provided at no cost to families. By establishing a grief support program for youth in the Valley similar to the one in San Antonio, the Center is taking steps to achieve its vision that “every grieving child and young adult in South Texas will have access to competent, compassionate care when faced with the death of a loved one.”

Funding for the Children’s Bereavement Center-Rio Grande Valley (CBC-RGV) was provided by Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. and the New York Life Foundation. Goals for the youth-focused program during its first year in operation include bringing on two Master’s-prepared counselors to carry out the clinical aspects of the CBC-RGV program including individual counseling services and peer support groups at the Center.

In addition to helping establish a safe and positive environment where families can come together to heal after the loss of their loved one, counselors will also help train, educate, and equip other Valley counselors with the skills and knowledge needed to provide grief counseling in their community. Another licensed counselor will travel between Edinburg, McAllen and Brownsville, providing peer support groups and education for school counselors and other professionals who work with grieving children.

CBC-RGV has already formed partnerships with Edinburg ISD, McAllen ISD, and Harlingen CISD, and the mobile counselor will travel the 60 miles between these locations to provide services for children and youth. Other services include continuing education for Valley-area educators, counselors, clergy, hospice staff, and others about the effects of unresolved grief in children and how to support children who have suffered a loss; and a grief camp for children who cannot attend regularly scheduled peer support groups. According to a recent press release for the Center opening, “The ultimate goal of the CBC-RGV is to prevent maladaptive behaviors and unhealthy outcomes for grieving children. In addition, stabilizing and preserving family relationships is the primary focus of the Center’s grief support activities. Studies have shown that peer support groups are the most effective way to help grieving children develop healthy coping skills and restore a sense of normalcy among surviving family members. Attending peer support groups with others who share similar experiences provides children and caregivers with a safe place to express themselves and feel understood.”

Corie Olivares, Regional Director for the new RGV Center shared, “I am most pleased that for the first time in our community we will be able offer grief counseling services to families in need and because of our support of local businesses families and foundations we can do this free of charge.”

Support groups and counseling will use art, writing, music and movement, dance and dramatic play to help children process their grief.

These and other services will be provided in our Rio Grande Valley community at no cost to families, helping and healing because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!).

For more information go to www.cbc-rgv.org