When Finn Harrison was six years old, his dad Andy died.

Andy was on a soccer field when he suddenly dropped to the ground with a massive heart attack. One day, Finn’s dad was there, larger than life. The next, he wasn’t. He was gone.

The pain of close family bereavement is one of the most deeply traumatic experiences for children. One in 20 Australian children will experience the death of a parent while they are still a child, and many more a sibling or close loved one. This grief can have significant, life-long impacts on a child and adult’s mental and physical health, education, and family security, particularly if not addressed early with specialist care.

Since 1994, the National Centre for Childhood Grief (NCCG) has provided free specialist care to bereaved Australian children aged 3 -17 years following the death of their parent, sibling or close loved one.

The NCCG was opened in 1994 by volunteer bereavement counsellors who saw that bereaved children were commonly missing out on specialist care and decided to set up a charity to provide free services for children. The centre has grown to support over 430 children and their families annually across Australia.

Despite our deeper current community awareness of child and youth mental health, childhood bereavement is still commonly misunderstood, misdiagnosed and mismanaged. The NCCG exists to provide the specialist care bereaved children need, help fill a significant gap in preventative mental health care and educate the community on the experience and needs of bereaved children.

The NCCG’s care services are focused on helping a bereaved child understand their grief and build their sense of security, resilience and coping skills, empowered to live their own best life.

The NCCG is a rare Australian service that provides a broad, holistic suite of free care services: individual counselling, group programs, adventure camps, parent support, community outreach, and fee-for-service training for professionals and community organisations caring for bereaved children. Demand for all services is very strong – the NCCG cares for three times more clients than it did just five years ago.

The NCCG is investing in a three-year grant from Third Link to build the charity’s long-term fundraising capacity and ensure it can continue meeting the ever-growing community demand for its care.

Finn Harrison is now 20 years old, a university student and theatre professional. He sees how such close family bereavement never leaves you. But with the proper support, he has learned that it’s something you learn to live with, not something that defines how you live.

Finn wrote:

“I know I am the person I am today because of the help of [the team at] the NCCG. The counsellors and volunteers helped my whole family work through the extreme heartache and pain we felt after the death of our dad. We all grieved differently. Even within our little family, all our stories have been written differently.

As a kid, when someone dies, you feel very alone. Everything is bottled up because it’s too hard and painful to process. The specialised grief counsellors truly understood, and they helped my family start to feel that we could cope. These amazing people provided the space where talking could begin. The more we talked, the more we would remember and eventually feel like we could survive our loss.”

To find out more about the National Centre for Childhood Grief or discuss any aspect of how the NCCG and Third Link are working together to support bereaved children, contact NCCG Head of Development Chris Waugh on 0401 900 371 or chris@childhoodgrief.org.au.

Finn Harrison

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