In October, 2008, the Grief Outreach Initiative was established through a partnership between the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling and Dean Bob Rider. Designed as an outreach activity for the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, the initial program goals included creating a training program on grief outreach, recruiting students from the College to participate in training, gathering materials for use with clientele, appointing a community advisory community, and alerting the local community about the program’s existence and potential uses. By 2010 these goals have been accomplished, with the creation of a 3-credit grief outreach course, successful training of 49 UT students in grief outreach, inviting eight university and community members to serve on the advisory community, and linking services with over 100 children from kindergarten to age 17. Local schools and mental health centers were notified about the program’s existence, and referrals come via phone, email, or personal contact from school counselors, parents, grandparents, school social workers, principals, and mental health case managers. Even though the focus of the initiative is targeted to under-served children in the Empowerment Zone (a 16 square mile area of high poverty in Knoxville that includes the city’s downtown and its poorest and oldest neighborhoods), the project receives referrals from other areas of the Knox County as well as surrounding counties.
UT students are trained prior to accepting a referral and closely supervised throughout their work with a child. They meet with children ages six to 17 who have experienced a loss – a death, parental divorce, incarceration, a move, and/or a change in school. Unresolved feelings related to loss may affect a child academically, socially, or both. The goal of the GOI is to provide support and acceptance and to create a safe time and place for the expression of thoughts and feelings about grief and loss. To that end, UT students meet with children individually or in small groups to listen, read books, play, draw, tell stories, make memory books, record memories, and improvise.
Participation in the Grief Outreach Initiative benefits UT students in two important ways. One is the powerful learning experience that ‘the real world’ affords them. Participants have opportunities to apply their skills, learn about the problems encountered in school and other community settings, and become engaged with the community. Another benefit is the collaborative partnerships they develop with other professionals, such as Dr. Welch in Information Sciences and Dr. Cramer in art therapy at the University, and teachers, counselors, principals, social workers, and case managers in the community who are committed to improving the well-being of children. These professionals mentor UT students as they work with the children referred for services.
The next logical step to enhance services is the creation of the Research Center on Grief, Loss, and Transition Services. We hope to use space owned by the College to house the program. University space is inside the Empowerment Zone, making it accessible to our target population. Having a physical location will increase visibility, allow for the expansion of services, and better position the Center to collaborate with community partners such as Mane Support, Bereavement Services of East Tennessee, Hospice teams, Katerpillar Kids, and the Wellness Community.
Short-term goals are the following:
- continue grief outreach training and supervision of UT students
- buy supplies for the Center, including office equipment, books, art supplies, and toys
- begin to establish a community library of resources on grief and loss
- offer individual and group counseling to youth experiencing grief and loss
Long-term goals include the following:
- establishing the center as a counseling practicum and internship site
- expanding services to include play therapy
- soliciting additional funding to support the Center
- supporting research on Center-related activities
- producing outcome studies on the effectiveness of counseling services, client wellness, and the counseling process.
Currently, Dr. Tricia McClam, Professor and Associate Department Head for EPC, coordinates the Grief Outreach Program, with help from doctoral students in Counselor Education and student volunteers. Initial financial support has been from foundations and individual gifts.
Tricia McClam, Professor and Associate Department Head
Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling (EPC)
College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences
The University of Tennessee
CC448 Claxton Complex
1122 Volunteer Boulevard
Knoxville, TN 37996-3452
Phone: (865) 974-3845