Merimna: Caring for children and families experiencing illness and death

Continuing our short series about bereaved children and teenagers with examples of initiatives from Greece, Romania and the UK . . .

Over 20 years Merimna has provided bereavement support to more than 50,000 children, parents, and school communities. Danai Papadatou, PhD, President of Merimna’s Board of Directors and Professor of Clinical Psychology, School of Health Sciences, Department of Nursing, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece, explains.

Prof. Danai Papagaiou

Prof. Danai Papadatou

Merimna (meaning ‘care’) is the only organisation in Greece that provides services to children who are affected by dying, death and bereavement, and to the significant adults in their lives. Founded in 1995 by experts in paediatric palliative care and bereavement support, this non-profit organisation has made a significant social contribution through the provision of these free of charge services:cc

 

  • Childhood and Family Bereavement Counselling Centres in Athens and experienced psychologists trained by Merimna assess each family’s needs and provide individual, family and/or group bereavement support for parentally bereaved children, and parents who grieve the loss of their spouse or the loss of their child. Traumatically bereaved children are offered long-term support, and families who live in remote places are supported by a Telephone Help Line.
  • Community interventions in loss, trauma or disasters – these are not limited to the crisis-phase immediately following the traumatic event (e.g. several student deaths at a school excursion) or disaster, but are integrated in the school programme for up to three years, so as to address the changing needs of traumatised children, families, schools and communities.
Drawing by a 10-year-old boy whose father committed suicide by hanging himself – at the time the boy’s mother had not informed him about this. The boy depicts a shipwreck with a drowning person shouting ‘help,’ and a rescuer responding ‘OK’. In the drawing, the boy most probably depicted himself asking for help from the psychologist. (Copyright: Merimna).

Drawing by a 10-year-old boy whose father committed suicide by hanging himself – at the time the boy’s mother had not informed him about this. The boy depicts a shipwreck with a drowning person shouting ‘help,’ and a rescuer responding ‘OK’. In the drawing, the boy most probably depicted himself asking for help from the psychologist. (Copyright: Merimna).

Greece has no official national record; however, it is estimated that, annually, more than 10,000 children and adolescents are bereaved. Over the past 20 years more than 50,000 children, parents and school communities have benefited from our services, while thousands of educators, health and mental health professionals have attended our training programs, seminars and national conferences.

Today, Merimna is faced with three major challenges:

Psychosocial effects of major economic hardship on childhood and family bereavement

Since the beginning of the crisis, we have been faced with more requests by families of traumatically bereaved children who encounter the death of a parent by suicide, homicide, heart attack, acute illness or road traffic accident, leaving the surviving parent overwhelmed with debts, unemployment, and limited support by significant others who are absorbed by their own difficulties. In addition to the loss of a parent, bereaved children experience the loss of the surviving parent who, although present, is psychologically absent and absorbed by the struggle to survive through economic hardship that compromises the family’s quality of life. A new programme for single parents seeks to enhance their resilience and parenting skills, with support being available whenever they decide to address their grief.

Support for traumatically bereaved refugee children and unaccompanied adolescents

We are challenged to revise our westernised theories on trauma, explore a much broader range of dimensions besides the symptomatology of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety and depression, and include in our assessments and take into account the socio-political, cultural and historical context in which some of the children’s responses occur.

To raise public awareness of the challenges encountered by refugee children on the move, and to strongly advocate for their rights, we have launched at the Beneaki museum an exhibition of Akash’s photography, which is currently displayed in Switzerland and soon in other European countries. 

Major financial constraints due to the drastic decrease of donations

Merimna receives no funding from the government and relies entirely on donations from individuals, companies, foundations and the association ‘Friends of Merimna’ to operate its services. Staff salaries had to be reduced, services decreased, and the administration has focused on building collective resilience. We operate on the belief that the extent to which staff members are emotionally supported by their organisation affects their ability to provide quality to bereaved children families, and support their colleagues. Regular staff supervision, evaluation of services, and a fruitful communication between administration and staff enhance growth in the face of adversity.

More about Merimna – society for the care of children and families encountering illness and death
As well as the services described in this post, Merimna also offers paediatric palliative home care services to children and families living in the large area of Athens. Please visit our website

Read more posts in this series on the EAPC Blog . . .
Read last week’s post from Marinela Murg about ‘The Morning Star Camp’  run by Emanuel Hospice in Romania. Next week, Judy Debenham writes about the Candle Project at St Christopher’s Hospice in the UK.

 

This entry was posted in BEREAVEMENT, Bereavement, Children and young people, CHILDREN'S PALLIATIVE CARE, PATIENT & FAMILY CARE and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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