Expanding Our Reach through Community-Based Programming
by Cara Magrogan Sacks, LSW, CT, CTS
Director of Community-Based Programming
After nearly 20 years of providing bereavement support to Philadelphia’s children and families, a new branch of The Center’s services has grown. Our new Community-Based Program has expanded The Center’s reach to the city’s most vulnerable children grieving the losses of those closest to them. While children used to have to travel to The Center to attend our support groups, we are now able to bring our groups to them.
None of us grieves in isolation, and children are no exception–their grief is heavily influenced by those around them. For this reason it is ideal for families to come to our Center-Based locations to receive support together. Each of our Center-Based groups offers a concurrent parent/caregiver group for adults to receive their own grief support as well as support and guidance around raising a grieving child. There are many children, however, who we knew weren’t making it to The Center due to a variety of barriers such as lack of access to safe transportation or not having an available or willing parent or guardian to participate. We know these children are very high-risk. The losses they experience are often violent and traumatic and may be only one death among many the child has been bereaved by in their short life. They are mostly living in very impoverished sections of the city with high rates of violence and substance abuse and often with limited adult support. It was for these children that we created our Community-Based Programs to safely bring The Center’s support to grieving children in their own communities during the school day.
Our free eight-week groups, facilitated by a masters-level clinician, are offered to schools in partnership with the school guidance counselor or social worker. By participating in the group process with The Center staff, school clinicians are able to increase their comfort and skill level working with grieving students while at the same time providing a familiar friendly face that allows their students to feel more comfortable participating. Although our time together is relatively short, a supportive and grief-friendly adult presence remains for the students long after the eight weeks has ended. We have been amazed by the openness and dedication of the school staff during a very challenging time for the Philadelphia school district.
Over the inaugural year of the Community-Based Program, we were able to run groups in 25 Philadelphia schools including public, charter, and parochial, and to provide support to an astounding 199 children. This feat could not have been accomplished without the dedication and passion of the wonderful schools we have worked with. We wish to thank them for opening their doors to us and look forward to expanding our reach to even more of our city’s schools during the school year to come!