New program to help grief-stricken children in Westmoreland County |

New program to help grief-stricken children in Westmoreland County

Stephen Huba
Detail of “The Listening Chair” developed by Excela Health bereavement counselors Kristy Walter and Maureen Ceidro. The chairs will be used in support group settings to help children who are grieving the death of a loved one.
Stephen Huba | Tribune-Review
Saint Vincent College students (from left) Jenna Natijevic, Megan Morrone and Journie Crutchman unveil the cover for the new brochure 'When Someone Your Child Loves Dies,' released on Tuesday by the Fred Rogers Center and Excela Health.

From school shootings to last month’s synagogue shooting, drug overdoses to the war casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reality of death is never far away from children.

When Excela Health Home Care & Hospice started exploring ways to help grieving children, it turned to the man who once devoted an entire episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” to the death of a goldfish.

“The first thing we did was ask ourselves: What did Fred say about this? What would Fred do?” said Dana Winters, professor of child and family studies at the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College.

The collaboration between Excela Health and the Rogers Center, announced Tuesday, will result in programming for children in Westmoreland County who are dealing with the death of a loved one. The partnership also includes the Seton Hill University art therapy department.

The first thing to come out of the collaboration is the brochure “When Someone Your Child Loves Dies,” which was released Tuesday.

Organizers also plan to develop age-appropriate curricula, start grief support groups for children and use art therapy as a way to fill the gap in services.

“Many times, the children of Westmoreland County had to go to Pittsburgh or other areas to receive that kind of support, or in many cases didn’t receive that support at all,” said James Joyce, manager of Excela’s hospice and palliative care program.

More elements of the child grief program will be announced in the coming year, Winters said.

“It is all rooted in the foundation that Fred Rogers has set for us,” she said, noting that the Latrobe native stressed the importance of talking to children and helping them process their feelings.

One guiding principle, she said, is the Rogers quote, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that’s mentionable can be more manageable.”

The brochure refers people to the Excela Health grief support groups and to the Highmark Caring Place, with locations in Cranberry, Pittsburgh, Erie and Harrisburg.

The Highmark Caring Place released new figures on children and loss in recognition of Children’s Grief Awareness Day, which will be marked Thursday.

The Caring Place noted that opioids have become a major contributor to the rate of death among parents and siblings, with the national rate of opioid-related deaths increasing by 13.3 percent since 2010. In Pennsylvania, the rate has increased from 5.1 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 18.5 in 2016.

The increase is reflected in the number of families that have sought help from the Caring Place after an opioid-related death. In its four locations, 144 families received services for an overdose death in 2017, compared to only five in 2014.

“Opioids are having a devastating impact on children in our country and in our community. In Pennsylvania alone, more than 100,000 kids are being raised by their relatives or guardians as a result of an opioid-related death,” Director Terese Vorsheck said.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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