HopeWest Kids

Grief Support for Children & Teens

How We Help Kids & Teens

Support Groups, Programs & Camps

Meet the Team

Grief Support Resources

How You Can Support HopeWest Kids

When impacted by serious illness or the death of a loved one, children often need help finding ways to cope. HopeWest Kids is our program for grieving children and teens. Experienced counselors also help parents learn healthy and meaningful ways to help their children when a loved one is seriously ill or dying.

HopeWest Kids

Grief Support for Children & Teens

When impacted by serious illness or the death of a loved one, children often need help finding ways to cope. HopeWest Kids is our program for grieving children and teens. Experienced counselors also help parents learn healthy and meaningful ways to help their children when a loved one is seriously ill or dying.

How We Help Kids & Teens

Support Groups, Programs & Camps

Meet the Team

Grief Support Resources

How You Can Support HopeWest Kids

About HopeWest Kids

When a family is facing a serious illness or a death, HopeWest Kids is designed to support children and teens as they explore, understand, and express their personal grief experience. Our skilled and compassionate staff and volunteers create a safe and welcoming environment while utilizing techniques that best fit each child and teen.

Our work involves facilitating well-being and resilience in the whole child. Our grief support encompasses education and compassionate interventions for the child and family in collaboration with community partners.

Funded exclusively through donations, HopeWest Kids focuses on children and families in our communities regardless of whether or not they have had a family member served by HopeWest.

HopeWest Kids is the only program of its kind in Western Colorado and served more than 580 kids last year. Specially trained counselors offer grief education and counseling in Delta, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray and Rio Blanco counties.

Common Questions

My loved one wasn’t in HopeWest care, can I still receive grief support services?

HopeWest Grief Support is for anyone in the Colorado community who has experienced the loss of a loved one. Whether it is anticipatory grief, or learning to cope with a loss, our trained and caring staff is available to help surviving family and friends cope with their grief.

Does HopeWest charge for grief services?

Some insurances can be billed for one-on-one counseling, and when they can’t we can work out a sliding scale. Groups are free for adults. Most groups for kids and teens are free, except Healing with Horses and camps which are available for a nominal fee. We never turn anyone away. The ability to pay is never a deciding factor as to whether someone can get support through HopeWest Grief Support.

What type of grief processing is supported?

Through individual counseling, group counseling, camps, programs, and additional resources, HopeWest Grief Support serves those experiencing a serious illness, anticipatory grief, and the death of a loved one.

When can I call?

It’s never too early or too late to discuss how the expertise and compassion of HopeWest Grief Support can help. Whether your loved one died 15 years ago or is currently experiencing a serious illness, it’s always the right time to reach out for support. Call us at 970-257-2390.

How do I get started?

Call us at 970-257-2390 for help with deciding which support options will be the best fit for you. We’ll equip you with all the information you need to get started with HopeWest Grief Support.

About Our HopeWest Kids Program

Hear from HopeWest Kids

Grief Support Groups, Programs & Camps

HopeWest grief support services are open to anyone in the community who has experienced the loss of a loved one. For more information about availability, please call 970-245-5377.

Delta

For more information on Delta groups, please call 970- 874-6823 or email CDauwe@HopeWestCO.org.

Individual Counseling

Counseling sessions are available to anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one or are connected to someone with a serious illness. Services are offered at a nominal fee on a sliding scale basis or are covered by insurance.

 

School-Based Support Groups

HopeWest Kids sponsors grief support groups in 43 schools across Mesa, Montrose, and Delta Counties. If you would like to meet with other kids in a group setting, ask your school counselor if there is a group at your school or call HopeWest. There is no cost for school-based grief support groups.

Grand Junction

For more information or to register for Grand Junction groups, please call 970-245-5377 or email CWard@HopeWestCO.org.

Individual Counseling

Counseling sessions are available to anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one or is connected to someone with a serious illness. Services are offered at a nominal fee on a sliding scale basis or are covered by insurance.

School-Based Support Groups

HopeWest Kids sponsors grief support groups in 43 schools across Mesa, Montrose, and Delta Counties. If you would like to meet with other kids in a group setting, ask your school counselor if there is a group at your school or call HopeWest. There is no cost for school-based grief support groups.

Open Studio

The Third Friday of Every Month
March 15, April 19, May 17
2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Elementary school students who have received HopeWest Kids services are invited to join us on early release Friday for art projects, board games, baking, gardening, and much more. Open Studio is free to attend.
Space is limited. Registration is required, please call (970) 245-5377.

Forget-Me-Not Family Grief Support Group

Thursday Evenings, March 7 – April 18
5:15 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Ferris Care Center, Room 101, 3090 N. 12th Street
Dinner will be provided.

Join HopeWest Kids for Forget-Me-Not, a family-centered grief support group.The group, open to all aged members with community connections, provides a safe and caring place to explore grief and its impact on the family. Forget-Me-Not offers education and support regarding the grieving process through the use of games, art and craft projects and music. Children and teens will work in age-specific groups, and parents will have a separate group, allowing participants to connect with peers facing similar experiences.

Space is limited and participants must be registered by February 22. For more information and to register call (970) 257-2390.

Equine Therapy Support Groups

These groups are designed to help children and teens understand and cope with their loss through self-expression and interaction with horses.

Meeker

For more information on Meeker groups, please call 970-878-9383 or email BTurner@HopeWestCO.org.

Individual Counseling

Counseling sessions are available to anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one or are connected to someone with a serious illness. Services are offered at a nominal fee on a sliding scale basis or are covered by insurance.

 

School-Based Support Groups

HopeWest Kids sponsors grief support groups in 43 schools across Mesa, Montrose, and Delta Counties. If you would like to meet with other kids in a group setting, ask your school counselor if there is a group at your school or call HopeWest. There is no cost for school-based grief support groups.

 

Equine Therapy Support Groups

These groups are designed to help children and teens understand and cope with their loss through self-expression and interaction with horses.

Montrose & Ouray Counties

For more information on Montrose & Ouray County groups, please call 970-248-8844 or email TKinkade@HopeWestCO.org.

Individual Counseling

Counseling sessions are available to anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one or are connected to someone with a serious illness. Services are offered at a nominal fee on a sliding scale basis or are covered by insurance.

 

School-Based Support Groups

HopeWest Kids sponsors grief support groups in 43 schools across Mesa, Montrose, and Delta Counties. If you would like to meet with other kids in a group setting, ask your school counselor if there is a group at your school or call HopeWest. There is no cost for school-based grief support groups.

 

Open Studio

Elementary school students are invited to join HopeWest Kids for art projects, board games, baking, gardening, and much more. Registration is required.

 

Equine Therapy Support Groups

These groups are designed to help children and teens understand and cope with their loss through self-expression and interaction with horses.

 

Compassionate Hearts Suicide Loss Group

Compassionate Hearts is a monthly grief support group for those who have had a loved one die by suicide. This group is open to individuals, families, teens, and children. Although each person’s grief is unique, those coping with the death of a loved one share a common bond. Each support group begins with grief education and is followed by a small group discussion.

Compassionate Hearts is free of charge and is open to anyone coping with the death of a loved one. Pre-registration is required each month.

Grades K-2

Grades 3-8

Teens

“It really helps to talk to someone who you are comfortable with – friends, family, or even animals. The horses are big, graceful, sweet, and smart. It’s like they can give you a big hug.”

Carmen quickly learned the healing power of horses when she began attending HopeWest’s equine grief support program. Carmen was 8 when her mother died suddenly in a tragic accident. Healing with Horses was a natural fit for Carmen, who loves all animals. It was a safe place to grieve.

Meet the HopeWest Kids Team

Our therapists are masters-level prepared and have long-term experience in the field of illness and grief support. They have special training and expertise in grief and loss, holding certifications in art therapy, equine therapy, and EMDR⁠—a method designed to alleviate distress associated with trauma.

About Jessica

Jessica is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Colorado, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in Florida, and an EMDRIA certified EMDR counselor. She obtained her master’s degree in counseling psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University and became licensed in 2016, but has been in the helping field since 2011.

Jessica has well-rounded experience working with individuals who struggle with grief/loss, regular and complex trauma, attachment wounds, substance use, ADHD, and co-occurring disorders. Her primary modalities and orientations in counseling include EMDR, somatic processing, person-centered, existential, and dialectical behavioral therapy. Jessica believes that everyone experiences life in their own way, including grief, stress, and trauma and should have a safe space to heal and grow in their own way.

About Judian

Judian received her Bachelors in Social Work in 2004 from Colorado State University and came to HopeWest as a hospice social worker and a children’s counselor. She held various positions in the hospice program as well as the bereavement program. Judian has been instrumental in creating group curriculum and training opportunities for the client’s and employees at HopeWest as well as outside agencies in the area. She enjoys being in a teaching role and understands that knowledge is power when it comes to supporting those we serve.

About Cori

Cori Ward, LPCC, earned her Master’s degree from Adams State University and brings valuable experience to HopeWest Kids as a counselor in local high schools and non-profit organizations. Specializing in short-term counseling for children, teenagers, and families, she uses play therapy and narrative therapy as primary modalities. Creating a safe and nurturing space, Cori helps individuals explore and process emotions, recognizing the transformative power of navigating loss and transition. With compassion and empowerment, she guides them through healing and growth, providing the necessary tools and interventions. Having lived in Grand Junction for 13 years, Cori cherishes the community and integrates her love for the outdoors into her therapeutic approach. Her expertise, dedication, and genuine care create a nurturing environment for individuals on their healing journey.

About Teri

Teri began as the Youth Services Coordinator for the Montrose Office in August 2017.  She holds a Master of Arts degree in education and counseling from Chadron State College and a Bachelor of Sciences degree in communications from the University of Wyoming.  She uses strengths-oriented, solution-focused, mindfulness, play, and expressive arts approaches to come alongside grieving children and teens to support them in their mourning process.

About Claire

Claire completed her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Colorado State University and an undergraduate Certificate in Child Life from American Public University. Claire is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Social Work from University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She uses trauma-informed and strengths perspectives, as well as narrative and mindfulness approaches in her work with grieving children, teens, and families. Claire has been working as the Delta Bereavement and Youth Coordinator since 2021 and volunteered with HopeWest Kids beginning in 2017.

About Brittni

Brittni, LPC received her MS in Counseling in 2015 and a BS in Family and Community Services in 2009, both from the University of Wyoming. She has a background in child development, family systems theory, and play therapy and utilizes this to inform her work with grieving clients of all ages. Brittni has specialized training in EMDR Therapy and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. She has worked for HopeWest since July of 2015.

Grief Support Resources for Kids, Teens, and Parents

Grief in Children

Children grieve differently than adults, which can make grief hard to identify. Since kids do not sustain emotional pain for long periods of time, they grieve in spurts. Episodes of tears and crying can be quickly followed by laughter and play.

Grief may present itself as changes in behavior such as tantrums or with physical complaints like stomachaches and headaches. Children have feelings they may not share–for example, fear that someone else they love may die or guilt that something they said or did caused their loved one to die. As they mature they may grieve the loss again and need support long after adults think they are healed.

How You Can Help

• Answer questions clearly and accurately
• Maintain structure and routine
• Encourage a variety of outlets for grief
• Model honest expressions of grief
• Partner with school personnel to promote academic success
• Keep the memory of the loved one alive

Rainbow Connections: A Guide for Kids 12 & Under

When a loved one dies, children continue to need ongoing support. Rainbow Connections is a 12-issue newsletter for kids 12 and under. It combines information about loss and grief with proven tips and coping strategies. Each issue includes a suggested activity and recommended reading.

Grief in Teens

Teens respond to grief in their own unique way and working through identity issues is one of their main tasks. When they are impacted by an illness or loss, parents may observe their teen withdraw, struggle socially, or try to assume adult roles. Some teens participate in risk-taking behaviors as an expression of their grief.

Bereaved teens often also struggle academically: teachers report that students who have lost a parent or guardian typically exhibit difficulty concentrating in class (87%), less class participation (82%), and absenteeism (72%) (NYL Foundation and American Federation of Teachers, 2012).

How You Can Help

• Create rituals to honor the deceased
• Allow for changes in mood and maturity level
• Answer questions and provide factual information
• Allow for flexibility in completion of schoolwork
• Support relationships with understanding adults
• Share your grief
• Find a peer support group

Connections for Teens: A Guide for Teens

When a loved one dies, teens continue to need ongoing support. Connections for Teens is a 13-issue newsletter that combines general information about loss and grief with proven tips and coping strategies.

Talking to Children and Teens

When a loved one has a serious illness

It is never easy to talk to children and teens about a serious illness in the family, particularly if that illness is likely to end in the death of a loved one. However, young people are perceptive and sense when they feel they are being excluded from family events.

Depending on their age, they make take responsibility for the negative events if not given assurances about the cause of the stress in the home. Hopefully, they have been involved during the treatment phase of the disease. Some adults postpone telling their children until changes in physical appearance are noticeable. However, there may be other changes in the household that concern them such as the inability of the patient to work or frequent trips to the doctor or hospital. They may then attempt to gather information by eavesdropping on adult conversations and piecing together a scenario, leaving them alone with their worries.

At the time of diagnosis

• Tell them the loved one is ill and ask them how much information they want about the illness. Let them know you are willing to answer their questions.

• Provide accurate information about the disease in language appropriate to their age. Name the disease and explain how it affects the body.

• Tell them whether or not the disease is infectious. Children may fear they can “catch” the illness and therefore, distance themselves from their loved one.

• Explain the cause of the disease. “Magical thinking” in young children may lead them to believe that something they said or did caused the disease. Reassure them the illness is never the fault of a child. If the disease was caused by a certain lifestyle, be aware they will fear for others with a similar lifestyle. For example, if the disease can be related to smoking, they may begin to hide cigarettes or beg other loved ones to stop smoking.

• Give them Information about treatment and the expected side effects. They may wish to accompany the loved one to treatments. They can be told that everything possible is being done to fight the disease.

• When a cure is no longer possible, tell them this is a serious illness that causes death. This allows them time to prepare.

If the disease becomes life-threatening

• Give them the opportunity to spend time with the patient and participate with them in meaningful activities. Otherwise, they may be left with the feeling that they did not get to say goodbye. If they are not told the prognosis and participate in their regular routine, after the death they may feel guilty about not making time for the loved one. Ask them how much time they want to spend with the ill person. Confirm that it is their job to be a youngster. It is ok to want to be with friends, attend school and enjoy their usual routine.

• Help children and teens discover ways to interact with the patient. Be creative in involving them in the care of the patient. They can bring needed items to the room, draw pictures to decorate the room, read to the patient. Ask them what they would like to do. You may be surprised at the creative ideas they come up with. If there has been conflict, help the child resolve these issues.

• Let them know you are available to answer their questions. Tell them you may cry when talking about the person but assure them you are only letting out your feelings, you are ok, and you will continue to care for them. Give them permission to cry and show their feelings. It may help them to have a notebook where they can write their questions. Adults can then read their questions and either write the answers or talk to them.

• Include others in the nurturing of your child. You may not be able to provide your children with all the physical and emotional support that they are used to during this time. Other loving adults can support your child and provide concrete service by doing such things as driving them to social functions.

• Inform school personnel about the illness. Your child may struggle at school while they are focused on their concern about what is happening at home that day.

When death occurs

• Include the child in making a plan for the day of the death. If they are at school, do they want someone to come to school to get them? If so, is there a particular person they would like to come for them. Or do they want to learn of the death only after they have arrived home at the end of the school day.

• Do they want to spend time with the body before it is removed by the mortuary? Do they want to do this alone or do they want someone else with them. If yes, prepare them for what the body will look like.

• Consult them on what they want their teachers and classmates to know. Some children will say that they do not want others to know. Gently explain to them that it is likely that classmates will find out in some other way, such as from a parent reading the obituary in the newspaper. If they miss school for the funeral, classmates may ask why they were not in school. This is an opportunity for them to learn about the support that can be provided by others.

• Let them choose how they would like the classmates to learn of the death. Elementary teachers may inform the whole class in their absence. In this case, classmates can create cards of sympathy and support, teaching children how to support others through a sad time. In some cases children want to be the ones to share the information about the death with the class. For middle and high school age youth the news usually is shared in a less formal manner, such as social media and word of mouth.

• Include them in the funeral planning and allow them to participate if they chose.

Children & funerals

The death of a family member or close friend can be overwhelming for a child. Parents and teachers often have questions about how to provide emotional support for a child after a death and how to handle their participation in a funeral or memorial service.

Should my child attend a funeral?
Children of any age can attend a funeral with preparation about what to expect. Infants and very young children benefit from having a familiar person prepared to remove them from the funeral if they become restless. This could be a family friend or a regular care provider; someone who would not feel the need to stay in the service for their own benefit.

How do I explain a funeral to my child?
Many children aren’t aware of the purpose of a funeral or memorial service or what to expect. Providing clear, concise information will help them make a decision about whether they want to attend. This should include the specifics about where and when the service will be, who will attend, the order of service, potential reaction of others, and any special plans. There should also be discussion of whether or not there are plans for a burial or cremation and the meaning of both. Give them honest, concrete answers. They can sense when you are sidestepping an issue.

How do I prepare my child for the service?
Explain the service in age appropriate terms and be aware of not projecting your own bias into the conversations. Comments such as “You should remember them like they were” may give the impression that a funeral is frightening or even dangerous. If the casket is to be open, it is wise to tell them that the body will not look or feel like it did when the person was alive.

How much should I tell my child about burial and cremation?
Children are naturally curious about what happens to the body of a person who dies. Begin the conversation by telling them that the person who died no longer needs their body, and then briefly describe burial or cremation. For example:

“When someone dies their body is no longer needed by them and we have to decide what to do with it. We put the body in a special box called a casket and bury it or take it to a place where it goes into a very hot oven and is burned. Because there is no longer life in the body, we say goodbye to their body at the funeral service.”

Will the funeral be too emotional for my child?
Funerals help all family members say goodbye to the person who died so they can begin to accept the loss and start to heal. Attending a funeral helps a child understand that funerals are about celebrating someone’s life as well as mourning their death. They will have the opportunity to share memories, both sad ones and comforting ones, and observe family and friends supporting one another. Children report feeling left out and resentful when they are not given a choice about attending a funeral or memorial service. They may assume that adults feel they are not mature enough to attend with the rest of the family, impacting their view of themselves.

What can I expect?
There are as many reactions to a funeral as there are children. Some may be shy, pulling away from adults who claim to know them but are essentially strangers. Adults may pat them on the head and tell them how much they have grown and they do not know what to say or do. They may play with other children in attendance that they have not seen for some time. They value having teachers at the service but may not speak to them. As long as the child’s behavior does not disrupt the proceedings, and is their honest reaction, it is okay.

What if my child doesn’t want to go to the funeral?
Children should not be forced to attend the funeral if they understand the concept and choose not to go. If you feel they are uncomfortable going, offer an alternative that feels right for both of you. If they choose to go to school, let the teacher know that this is a special day for them and they may need additional support. Plan something for you and your child to do together to mark the occasion such as visiting the cemetery or crematorium and having your own private memorial time.

Should my child take part in the funeral or memorial service?
Memorialization is an important part of the healing process and can begin at the funeral. A child can participate in the service depending on their interest, age and ability. Ask children for their ideas. They will surprise you and create something that is truly meaningful for them. Some children may want to play music, read something they have written, or place a memento in the casket. Looking through photos with family and choosing those for display at the funeral involves them in the family stories.

Is there anything I should do after the funeral or memorial service?
After the service talk with your kids to see if they have questions or misconceptions about the service or the reactions of the other attendees. They may interpret casual conversations or laughter they saw during or after the service as a sign of disrespect for their loved one. Note that adults in attendance may have made inappropriate comments to them. For example: telling a young boy whose father has died, that he is the man of the house now or that it is his job to take care of his mother. Explain that even adults do not know what to say to comfort someone who is grieving but that they were there because they care about your family.

Care Services

Not sure which care service is right for you?

We’re here to help!

Whatever challenges you face with aging, serious illness, or grief, our team at HopeWest is here to help.

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