Column: Children process grief at Camp Memories

By Laura Keys and Heather Miller
Youth First Inc.

More than half a million Americans have died of COVID-19 and, in Indiana, families are grieving the loss of nearly 15,000 loved ones. The pandemic will define a generation of children who lost a parent, grandparent or caregiver. A recent study estimates 43,000 U.S. children lost a parent to COVID-19, not to mention the countless grandparents that have died as well.

In response to this need, Youth First will provide two free, daylong grief recovery retreats for kids this summer. Called Camp Memories, this retreat began five years ago as a way to address the need to help children in our community cope with grief.

The Youth First program takes place on a designated Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Master’s level social workers facilitate the program. At Camp Memories, losing a loved one is the common denominator among participants. Children spend an entire day surrounded by people who have a true understanding of what they’ve experienced.

Camp Memories incorporates a variety of activities that help remove barriers to healthy grieving through games, art therapy activities and free play. Geared to meet the needs of kids from first through 12th grade, the camp creates a safe environment for bereaved kids to process what they’re going through and get the care they need. Additionally, parents are given an opening and closing meeting to keep them informed and equip them to be helpful as their kids leave the camp.

At the beginning of the day, children are typically hesitant about participating and nervous about what will be discussed. As the day progresses, they begin sharing their experiences as well as their emotional responses to these experiences. Sadness, anger, guilt, worry and fear are some of the common emotions children express throughout the day.

Allowing them an opportunity to talk about their grief through activities geared for children helps them make sense of their emotions. Invariably, by the end of the day, the group is smiling, chatting and having fun playing with new friends.

This year’s Camp Memories dates are June 12 at Washington Middle School in Evansville and May 29 at Camp Illiana in Washington (Daviess County). Both camps start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. If your child has experienced the loss of a loved one and is interested in participating, please contact your school’s Youth First school social worker or Laura Keys at 812-421-8336, ext. 107. Space is limited. This is a free program that depends on donations to continue providing grief support for children.

Heather Miller, LCSW, is the Youth First social worker for Washington Middle School in Vanderburgh County. Laura Keys, LCSW, is the vice president of social work and programs at Youth First Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. It provides 64 Master's level social workers to 92 schools in 11 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First's school social work and after-school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.




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