Snapshots: Growing Through Loss

November 1, 2000

OBJECTIVE: To help youth who have experienced significant losses (due to death, abandonment, sexual abuse, divorce and abortion) to understand the tasks in the grieving process, and to educate them on how the loss can influence their behavior (by leading to delinquency or depression, for example).

IN A NUTSHELL: The program has two components: education and therapy. The educational component involves sessions on such topics as forgiveness, moral development, identifying and breaking family patterns of unhealthy behavior, and choosing friends wisely. The therapeutic component includes group and individual counseling. Participants learn culturally appropriate grieving behavior, self-esteem development, character development and behavior modification, and develop life missions for themselves. Sessions meet for two hours twice a week for six weeks.

WHERE IT HAPPENS: The Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility, the Plainfield Juvenile Correctional Facility, the Indiana Women’s Prison and the Indianapolis Public Schools.

WHEN IT BEGAN: In 1993 in response to research at the Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility, which revealed that 78 percent of the adolescent females incarcerated there had experienced a profound loss or losses prior to incarceration.

WHO STARTED IT: Social workers Paulette Walker and Michelle Shaffer at the Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility. After hiring Walker as a high school parenting instructor, the YWCA of Indianapolis adopted the program in 1995. Then the program expanded to the three other sites.

WHO RUNS IT: Walker at the YWCA of Indianapolis.

EARLY OBSTACLES: Trying to accommodate the many youths referred to the program by judges, counselors and youths, and (of course) funding.

HOW THEY OVERCAME IT: Studies about the impact of the program on its participants convinced prospective funders, such as Indianapolis A.D.E. Charities and the H.C. Gemmer Family Christian Foundation, that the program is worth investing in. These studies revealed that 85 percent of program participants experience a decrease in depression, 90 percent demonstrate and report improved self-esteem, and 90 percent report and demonstrate an understanding of the correlation between grief and loss and maladaptive behavior.

COST: More than $200 per participant. This includes 13 sessions (26 hours) of group therapy with a trained facilitator, program materials, supplies and crafts items. The annual budget is approximately $100,000, including in-kind donations.

WHO PAYS: Primarily United Way of Central Indiana, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s Division of Family and Children, and The Indianapolis Public Schools.

WHO ELSE HAS KICKED IN: The Indianapolis Church Federation and The Indianapolis Foundation.

YOUTH SERVED: The program serves incarcerated youth and adults from throughout Indiana, as well as students in the Indianapolis Public Schools who have been identified by administrators as troubled. Since 1993, 920 youth and adults have completed the program. There are now 300 to 400 participants a year. Eighty percent are under 18 and about 90 percent are female. (The program’s original sites, the Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility and the Indiana Women’s Prison, were all female.) Most have experienced multiple losses, with about half having experienced a death of a loved one and about 80 percent having been sexually abused.

YOUTH TURN-ON: Participants say they find comfort in sharing pain with others who have also experienced profound losses. They find purpose and meaning in writing exercises, such as a personal mission statement and a Growing Through Loss workbook, and in a Letting Go Ceremony, in which family and friends participate as well.

YOUTH TURN-OFF: There is usually a lengthy waiting list for the program, which often discourages youths who want to join. Many wait for several months before space is available.

WHAT STILL GETS IN THE WAY: The program is not big enough to accept all referrals. Walker does not want the program to expand too quickly, so it adds no more than two sites a year.

CONTACT: Paulette Walker, Program Coordinator, YWCA of Indianapolis, 4460 Guion Rd., Indianapolis, IN 46254. (317) 299-2750 ext. 40. E-mail: Facilitator guides and program workbooks are available through the YWCA of Indianapolis.

"Growing Through Loss." Snapshots. Youth Today, November 2000, p. 19.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.