The Rowans Meerkat Service has just celebrated its 10th birthday. Sophie de Bere helped to set up the service, which supports children and their families through bereavement. Here Sophie talks about her motivation to join the Rowans, the work she does and what has kept her going.
What made you want to work for Rowans Meerkat Service?
In my previous job, I worked as a social worker in a Children and Families Team. I was the social worker for a four-year old whose mother unexpectedly died.
I was preparing to break the news to this little boy and I realised I didn’t have any idea how to do this – how honest should I be, what language should I use?
This experience compounded my passion to work more directly and therapeutically with children.
At this point, I understood the impact of loss on children, but knew nothing about palliative care. When the advert appeared for the position to create a children’s service for Rowans Hospice, I saw an exciting opportunity and went for it!
What was your first impression of the hospice?
The friendly, welcoming atmosphere struck me immediately. If I was supporting a family on the ward and things got emotionally tough, the ward team would instantly look after me.
Everyone is doing a difficult job so this supportiveness is vital.
Rowans is one of the few hospices in the UK that provides a dedicated service for children and young people.
Why do you think the Meerkat Service is so important?
Watching the deterioration and change in a loved one as they approach the end of their life is often frightening for adults. However, to encounter this as a vulnerable child can evoke feelings of fear and uncertainty which, in the absence of appropriate support, can lead to future difficulties with relationships, underachieving and mental health issues.
I strongly believe childhood bereavement shouldn’t be an assumed automatic barrier to children living happy and fulfilled lives.
We strive to strengthen a child’s resilience by helping them to develop coping skills, a better understanding of their own grief, a realisation of personal strengths, positive feelings of self-worth and aspirations for the future.
With the right support, children are able to manage what has happened, grieve and, ultimately, grow to achieve their full potential.
Can you name an aspect of the Meerkat Service you are especially proud of?
An important part of our work is providing support to a family before the patient dies as well as afterwards. Guiding parents in how to explain to their child what is happening, making sure the school is aware and support is in place, offering that child the precious opportunity to say ‘goodbye’ to their loved one, is vitally important.
We can’t take away the pain of grief, but helping children to understand what is going to happen can make a huge difference to how that child manages their loss.
I’m proud we can provide support at a time when families are likely to need it the most.
You stated how difficult the job is, so what has kept you at the Rowans for 10 years?
The Meerkat Service and our team has developed and grown over the years.
I am proud to be a part of a fantastic team, both within the Meerkat Service and the wider hospice organisation. Working alongside such skilled and supportive colleagues has definitely been a significant factor in me staying.
There are moments that are heartbreakingly sad, but over the years I’ve been privileged to witness an incredible amount of bravery and resilience in children and their families.
We build unique therapeutic relationships with children who often choose to maintain contact with the service long after our work has ended. Children tell us about a recent exciting holiday, achieving high GCSE results, passing their driving test etc.
It’s amazing to reflect on where that child was when we first met and their grief felt overwhelming, to then to see them months or years later, happy, flourishing with strong aspirations for the future.
To think that, as a service, maybe we were just a tiny part of helping that child through their journey is really special. Making a difference, no matter how small that difference might be to the lives of children and young people is always worthwhile and is why, 10 years later, I am still here.
Skye is one of the children who has accessed support through the Rowans Meerkat Service. Read her story at www.rowanshospice.co.uk/about-rowans/blog