New programme helps children affected by death or family break-up

Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

A programme that will help primary school children deal with grief and loss through bereavement, separation or divorce was launched in Clonmel this week. The Clonmel Community Resource Centre (CCRC), which already offers excellent services to families in the community, has been selected to deliver the Rainbows programme, a voluntary support service for young children who are dealing with the after-effects of such life-changing circumstances. While these children may be experiencing sadness and loss the Rainbows programme helps them identify, accept and come to terms with these and many other emotions. It helps them to understand that they are not alone in the world, that their emotions are normal and that other children also feel the same.

The programme is open to primary school pupils aged between 6 and 12 years, or from first to sixth class, and the Resource Centre will commence the very first programme in early November. This 12-week programme is spilt into two blocks of six weeks, divided by schools’ mid-term break. In Clonmel 10 female volunteers have been fully trained to facilitate the programme at the Resource Centre, undergoing interviews and Garda vetting procedures before they were selected and approved. There will be two volunteers to a small group of four or five children and families must enquire about the Rainbows programme themselves - they cannot be actively recruited by the Resource Centre.

There was great celebration last Monday at the centre in Kickham Street as the programme was launched by Mayor of Clonmel, Cllr. Billy Shoer, in the presence of Ann Patterson, director of Rainbows Ireland; Tom Pollard, chairperson of CCRC; Naomi Burke, manager of CCRC and site administrator for Rainbows; members of the steering committee and a large gathering representing voluntary and statutory agencies engaged in the provision of services and supports to children within the community.

“Rainbows is a most extraordinary family. Once Rainbows is a part of you, you become part of Rainbows. It is pure goodness,” said Ms Patterson, director of Rainbows Ireland, who spoke warmly and passionately about the programme. “When you work as a Rainbow volunteer it comes from your heart, not from training, but from being human,” she said.

While a number of schools in South Tipperary may already run the Rainbows programme, the Resource Centre is different in that it provides a community setting that allows children from various schools to attend there outside of the school setting. Ms Patterson commended CCRC for all it has done to ensure that it was selected as a site to run a community-based Rainbows programme, adding that it will greatly impact and benefit the wider community.

Sadly Ms Patterson lost her own husband when she was just 42 and had four children, the youngest of whom was just 12. She and her family experienced a profound loss, and as well as her work with Rainbows Ireland knows full well how this can affect a child.

“Children are all the time comparing their families to their friends’ and if there is only a mam or a dad in their family, or acrimony between them, then they can feel like theirs is the ‘only freaky family’,” said Ms. Patterson.

“When a child is left in limbo, it can be very hard for them, then they come to Rainbows and meet other children who are in the same situation [or have had similar experiences]. These children help each other through peer support and then they realise that theirs isn’t such a ‘freaky family’ after all.

“There is a wonderful dynamic, they become friends, they meet through the honesty and openness of their feelings,” said Ms Patterson.

Rainbows gives young children the opportunity to meet in a safe, welcoming environment with two trained facilitators where they are given the space and confidentiality to share and explore their feelings and emotions. But it does not offer professional counselling or therapy, nor does it advise, criticise or judge. Last year 17,674 children accessed Rainbows and 2,778 volunteers gave of their time. Each year in Ireland it is estimated that between 36,000-60,000 children are affected by bereavement, while the last census recorded a 150% increase in the number of people declared separated or divorced. Rainbows is needed now more than ever before.

Resource Centre and site administrator Naomi Burke said that it was the result of very successful team effort by a diverse cross-community group that the Rainbows programme is being delivered by CCRC. The need for Rainbows in the community was identified earlier this year and recognising CCRC’s suitability in a number of ways, Ms Burke proposed the Resource Centre as the ideal site, with support and approval by the board of directors. A steering group was established with representatives from Barnardos, Schools Completion Programme, HSE, Gardai and the Wilderness Youth and Community Centre and the wheels were set in motion.

“We now have a team of trained volunteer facilitators who are ready to deliver the programme and I thank and recognise the enthusiasm, commitment and quality of those volunteers,” she said.

Sheila Comerford, Schools Completion Programme co-ordinator said that the need for Rainbows was one that she saw daily through her work, encountering many young people suffering loss through bereavement and separation. 
“It is amazing that in less than a year that something like this has happened thanks to the various agencies and stakeholders involved and it is fantastic to see that it is now open and ready for business.”

Mayor of Clonmel, Cllr Billy Shoer said that without the voluntary sector the town and entire country would collapse. Mayor Shoer recalled how sad he felt when he was younger and his father left to work in England and he praised the Resource Centre for giving young people a chance to speak in their own way and realise that what they are feeling is natural.

Further information on Rainbows, or any of the services offered at the Resource Centre, is available by contacting Naomi Burke on 052-6129143 or e-mail,