Florida Nonprofit Helps Children Cope with Prolonged Grief

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Image of person sitting in isolation
Since the 1990s, some researchers have argued that intense forms of grief should be classified as a mental illness. In 2021, the American Psychiatric Association made the classification official. (Pixabay)

Trimmel Gomes, Florida News Service

Losing a loved one can be traumatic, but when it happens to children, it can leave them at risk of anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress that can derail their educational progress. Experts in grief say it’s always a good measure to seek help. 

New Hope for Kids in Maitland runs a program designed to bring hope and healing to children and families suffering from grief, for as long as they need.

“Kids are with us typically, very seldom are they here less than a year’s period of time,” said David Joswick, executive director of the volunteer-based organization that provides group grief support, free of charge. “More typical is two to three years.”

The American Psychiatric Association recently added Prolonged Grief Disorder to its list of mental disorders, describing it as intense emotional pain that persists more than a year after a loss. Those at particular risk include people who lose loved ones to violence, parents who lose children and anyone without a support system to help them cope. 

Joswick said the cost to run New Hope for Kids is about $600,000 a year, all through charitable donations. He said the program serves, on average, 400 to 425 children and more than 350 adults. As kids work in groups to overcome their grief, he said, the adults meet concurrently, so they can cope as a family. 

“They’ve seen changes in the demeanor of kids in the family,” he said, “and it’s created questions on their behalf of, ‘How do I interact with the kids during this period of time?’ And so, we provide guidance to the adults in the family.”

Prolonged grief disorder, also known as complicated grief, has sparked debate in the medical community. But clinicians now can bill insurance companies for treating anyone with the condition. Some say the APA designation also opens the door for more research and awareness. Joswick said his group made a decision years ago to stay non-clinical, avoiding insurance reimbursement forms.