'I was left with two grieving children': Olive Foley calls for full funding of Children’s Grief Centre

L-R: Olive Foley, Daniel McConnell and Sr Helen Culhane at the Children’s Grief Centre ten year anniversary conference today.

The country's only dedicated service for supporting children through the grief of losing a parent through death or parental separation has called on the government to fully fund its services as it has seen demand triple.

The Children’s Grief Centre in Limerick, has helped over 1,300 children, aged 4-18 years, since it opened 10 years ago.

However, at a conference to mark its tenth anniversary the centre’s director, Sr Helen Culhane, said it is running at full capacity and needs a new building to meet demand.

“What is really sad is that we now have 207 children on our waiting list, so (demand) has tripled,” Sr Culhane said.

It has relied on the support of the Mercy Sisters congregation for use of its Westbourne Convent in Limerick “but we have now run out of space," she added.

“It really is very sad that 4% of our budget comes from the government, and 96% comes from the general public, and from my own congregation.

"A service like this needs to be fully funded if we are serious about helping our children."

The centre is lobbying the government to help it build a larger €4m centre.

The annual cost of running the service is approximately €150,000.

Olive Foley, whose late Ireland and Munster rugby star husband, Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley, died suddenly in 2016, described how the centre continues to cushion her family in their grief.

“Anthony died so suddenly, in his sleep, very unexpectedly. So, I was left with two grieving children, and absolutely no experience, and in complete shock myself,” Ms Foley, who is now an ambassador for the centre, said.

The services provided allow children to express themselves through play, art, and offering a listening ear in a safe, and non-judgmental setting.

Irish Examiner political correspondent Daniel McConnell spoke about his battle trying to cope with the death of his mother, Ann, in 1991, when he was 12 years old.

“Grief is a very personal thing, but for me, I know I would have benefitted massively from attending something like the Children’s Grief Centre when I was growing up,” Mr McConnell said.

The speakers all agreed the service should be fully state-funded to ensure early intervention supports are provided to children who may fall through the cracks later in their adult life because of the impact of their grief.

“Children need help and support with discerning their grief and what has happened to them — whether it’s separation of their parents or the (death) of a parent or sibling - they need help and support early on to prevent problems down the road,” Ms Foley added.

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