After the loss of a loved one, children and adolescents can sometimes become the forgotten grievers. Fortunately, Youth Grief Services, a community outreach program of Fairview Health Services, is committed to changing that.
Youth Grief Services (YGS) offers support groups and education for families rocked by profound loss. It was founded in 1999 in response to an identified community need to support grieving children and families in the Twin Cities area.
“Kids grieve so differently than adults,” says Jenny Simmonds, lead program coordinator. “And that can be scary or unsettling for the adults around them, because youth grief doesn’t always look like adult grief.”
To help bridge this gap, YGS works with adults and children separately, giving them the tools that they need to heal. Twice a year, YGS offers seven-week grief support and education sessions for children and teens and separate, simultaneous sessions for parents and caregivers.
Connecting kids who’ve experienced a loss
Since 2009, Youth Grief Services (YGS) also has hosted an annual summer camp— Camp Erin—designed for kids ages 6-17 who have experienced the death of a family member or close friend.
The three-day camp balances traditional outdoor fun with exercises designed to help children express their grief, build trust and self-esteem, and begin to heal.
Raising community awareness
Program staff answer phone calls each week from parents needing grief support and from professionals seeking referrals and resources for clients in grief.
YGS also runs occasional grief support groups in schools and does regular presentations to help educate people in the community about childhood grief.In its seven-week grief series, youth sessions revolve around age-appropriate activities to help kids learn about death and grief through techniques such as art, games, discussion and play.
“With parents, we focus on education and helping parents to understand what their child may be going through,” says Simmonds. “We also connect them with other adults going through similar life experiences.”
'Empowering to know you’re not alone’
Peter Vogt, who lost his wife in 2012 to metastatic melanoma, says these grief connections can be crucial to healing.
He says that he, along with his 11-year-old son Isaac and his 5-year-old daughter Katie, have all benefited from Youth Grief Services’ support groups and grief camp.
“Just when I thought that my family’s Fairview experience was about to end, we were introduced to Fairview’s Youth Grief Services program in Burnsville,” says Vogt.
“When something like this happens in your life, it’s both comforting and empowering to know you’re not alone.”
Youth Grief Services serves more than 200 people a year—and has assisted more than 3,000 children, teens, parents and caregivers since it began. About 60-65 kids attend Camp Erin each year.
All YGS’ programs—including Camp Erin—are offered at no charge to grieving families. This is possible because of support from Fairview Health Services and the community.
YGS operates with a Fairview-employed staff member and about 75 volunteers. Fairview and Fairview Foundation cover about half of the programs costs and provide other in-kind support. The rest comes from contributions from individuals and community organizations, including The Moyer Foundation and the Randy Shaver Cancer and Community Fund.