How the Caring Place Works
The Highmark Caring Place is a family-centered, child-focused, peer support program. With the focus on children, every aspect of the program is designed with the needs of children and teens in mind. It is family-centered because, when a family member dies, the whole family grieves, and therefore the whole family needs support. As a peer support program, the Caring Place provides an environment where children, teens and adults can receive support from others their own ages who are going through very similar experiences.
As a community resource, the Highmark Caring Place is available to grieving children and families free of charge. There is no cost to families for any Caring Place services, and this doesn't depend on having insurance of any kind. The existence of the Highmark Caring Place reflects Highmark's commitment to the needs of children and families in the communities it serves.
Coming to the Caring Place
Children who are grieving the death of someone they love receive help at the Caring Place through peer support. The Caring Place doesn't provide therapy or counseling; instead children and teens come together with others their age.
They find that they are not alone in their grief.
They find that there are others who really do understand what they're going through.
They find a place where it is safe to eventually open up about what they are thinking and feeling, if they want to do that. However, no one ever has to do or say anything they don't want to do or say.
In order for trust to develop for those who come to the Caring Place, to the point where they might feel ready to share some of what's going on inside, the children and teens meet over a period of weeks with the same group members. One thing this means is that grieving families don't just "drop by" for an evening; the groups are set up in advance, and families are not added to these Sessions while they are going on.
Sessions are made up of approximately 15–20 families who have all had someone they love die. These families, along with a consistent group of caring volunteers and staff members, meet regularly for about two hours every other week over a period of 8–10 weeks. After completing the process that is set up to attend a Session, staff members work with families to assign them to an upcoming Session that works within the family's schedule.
The first hour of a meeting night is a relaxed social time where families and volunteers can enjoy a casual meal, talking and playing games with one another.
After the first hour in the large group, teens and younger children meet with others their age, while adults meet with other adults. In these groups, volunteers oversee activities that give the group members the opportunity to express and share their experiences and feelings in a safe environment.
Regardless of the type of activity planned for the evening, the focus is on helping the teens and children to know that they are not alone and to understand that what they are experiencing is normal.
The Highmark Caring Place is very fortunate to have dedicated, caring volunteers who are the heart of our program. These volunteers complete a thorough 26-hour training program and submit criminal and child abuse clearances prior to working within the peer support groups.
The volunteers provide structure and support as well as safety and security to the groups. Within this structure, the teens and younger children themselves discover what they need to help them along their grief journey.
The volunteers create a place where kids can talk about things that are hard, things they can't talk about at school, or with friends, or even within the family. Along with their peers within the groups, the volunteers are companions to the teens and children in their grief, simply walking beside them on their grief journeys, so they don't have to travel alone.