By Justine McDaniel, Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted: January 28, 2015
About 6 percent of children under 18 will experience the death of a parent, according to a commonly cited 1988 study. By that rate, an estimated 60,000 children across Philadelphia, Chester, Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery Counties have lost a parent.
Society is increasingly open to addressing grief, but many children still do not get the help they need, experts say. One reason is that adults mistakenly think children don't grieve. And kids don't always know how to express feelings.
"Their experience can get kind of buried. . . . It's easy for them to fall through the cracks," said Carrie Miluski, executive director of Peter's Place, a center in Radnor that offers peer support groups for bereaved families.
David Schonfeld, who directs the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement in Philadelphia, said there was little demand for his type of services years ago.
On Jan. 13, he helped launch the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, a national group created with top education associations to provide online materials, videos and modules to train school faculty about grief.
"We just can't wait for some horrific event," said Schonfeld, who works with schools in the United States and abroad, and has given more than 800 lectures on child grief. "It's kind of like saying, 'I'm not going to teach physicians anything about infectious diseases, we'll wait for a plague.' "
National and local groups use varied techniques to work with children and family members.
Family Lives On, a national group based in Exton, helps children carry on a family tradition after a parent has died, providing supplies and means for it every year until the child turns 18.
"We're just trying to normalize that we continue to talk about the fact that Mom has died and you're continuing to adjust to it," said Chris Cavalieri, the organization's executive director.
After Fran Shoup's 18-year-old daughter died of a chronic illness in 2009, he took his three sons to Peter's Place, the Radnor center.
There, children, teens, and caregivers can attend groups that aim to offer companionship and community. The staff also meets with children in schools in Philadelphia and Delaware and Chester Counties.
"Society, up to this point, really hasn't covered the needs of people who are grieving. So for me, it was a godsend," said Shoup, of West Chester.
McIntyre said the idea for his nonprofit came from his childhood, when "the only thing that anchored him" was the community he found through football, wrestling, basketball and swimming.
By covering sports fees, class tuition or equipment costs, W.H. McIntyre hopes to give children stability and an outlet.
"This will be a resource that we haven't really been able to provide," said Tricia Alston, a social worker for the West Chester Area School District.
For McIntyre, 41, the mission is personal. He seeks not only to provide unique aid to kids, but also to create some meaning out of his own story.
"The goal is really celebrating life," McIntyre said. "We want people to just take joy in whatever it is that they do."
It was March 25, 2010, and Andrew McIntyre had just become a father.
His mind was on his newborn girl, but he was also thinking about his own dad, who died of complications from emphysema when McIntyre was 4.
"It brought my father back to me in a way I had not anticipated," McIntyre said. "I wanted him in the waiting room, more so than when I got married or graduated."
Having his own child inspired McIntyre, a West Chester native, to help bereaved children in the area.
Last fall, he launched the W.H. McIntyre Foundation. Named for his father, the organization hopes to provide money for sports, arts, or other children's activities that may fall by the wayside after a parent dies, making a child feel even more alone.
"That's what we hope to really combat - that feeling of isolation that comes with bereavement," said Shannon McDonald, the group's board president.
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