The Origins of Constellation Project Australia

Constellation Project Australia was initiated by Cure Our Kids who work closely with families whose children are receiving treatment for cancer. Cure Our Kids saw a real need to build on existing support to bereaved families who have lost children to cancer.

In June 2009, Cure Our Kids commissioned Miriam Stevenson, a qualified Social Worker with 24 years of experience as a practitioner and a PhD student at the University of Sydney, to research the area and  find out what information and resources might assist family and community members in adapting to their loss.


From June 2009 until June 2010, we undertook research which involved:

• Consultation with bereaved family members and paediatric oncology staff
• A review of academic  and web-based literature in the area
• Visits to innovative and reputable bereavement support projects in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland
• Liaison with academics and practitioners in the grief and bereavement field nationally and internationally

Summary of Findings

The loss of a child is a profoundly painful loss and grieving is a lifelong process (Himelstein, 2004). Parents who lose a child are at higher risk for indications of complex grief (Rando, 1986).

The loss of a child to cancer is distinctive as it is often preceded by a long and traumatic treatment ‘journey’, sometimes involving periods of remission.

It is normal for families to sustain some ‘post-traumatic stress symptoms’ (McGrath, 2008 pp. 42-45) whilst their child is undergoing treatment. These effects will impact upon any subsequent grieving process.

There is evidence to suggest that bereaved 12-19 year old siblings are more at risk of developing significant psychological problems (Patterson & Rangganadhan, 2007).

The grief support needs of extended family members e.g. grandparents (Reed, 2003), friends and health professionals are often overlooked.

The economic burden placed upon families after the death of a child (Stebbins & Batrouney, 2007) can compound the financial hardships experienced by many families in the course of treatment (Heath et al, 2006).

Innovative projects in Queensland, Victoria and the US stress:

• The value of sharing and mutual support for adults, children and young people who have lost a loved one to cancer (DeCristofaro, 2007).
• Grief can be expressed in a variety of ways and in informal/unstructured environments.
• Access to grief education and self-care skills.
• The importance of memorials and rituals of grief.

These approaches can be offered alongside access to telephone and traditional individualised counselling as support options.

Conclusion

The Constellation Project Australia adopts a holistic and long term perspective on how the death of a child impacts upon the individual, the family and community as a whole. The focus of the project will be on how individuals and groups can be supported in continuing to honour the child whilst adjusting to their physical absence.

Literature cited:

Cancer in NSW: Incidence and Mortality Report 2006. 106-109.
DeCristofaro, J. (2007). Grieving Together: The Dougy Center Peer Support Group Model. Grief Matters(Winter 2007), 42-44
Heath, J. A. (2006). CHILDHOOD CANCER: Its Impact and Financial Costs for Australian Families. Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, Volume 23, Issue 5 June 2006 , pages 439 - 448, 23(5), 439-448.
Himelstein, B. P, et al. (2004). Medical Progress: Pediatric palliative care. New England Journal of Medicine, 250, 1752-1762.
McGrath, P. (2008). Living with Leukaemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma: A guide for patients and their families. Milton, Queensland: Researchman.
Patterson, P., & Rangganadhan, A. (2007). The needs of young people who have lost a sibling or parent to cancer: Report on the CanTeen National Member Survey for the bereaved sibling and bereaved offspring members: CanTeen Australia.
Rando, T. A. (1986). Parental loss of a child: Research Press Co.
Reed, M. L. (2003). Grandparents Grief- Who is listening? Retrieved 23.07.09, from The Association for Death Education and Counselling Retrieved 31st May 2010 from: http://www.adec.org/publications/forum/0301.pdf.
Stebbins, J., & Batrouney, T. (2007). Summary Report: Beyond the Death of  a Child, Social impacts and economic costs of the death of a child. Canterbury, Victoria: The Compassionate Friends Victoria Inc.

For all our research references go to our project references page