Over the past few months the topic of child bereavement has been increasingly prominent in the public’s consciousness. Rio Ferdinand’s documentary about life as a single parent was broadcast to critical acclaim. The 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death allowed Princes William and Harry to open up over their last conversation with her and subsequent regrets. These moments have coincided with events such as the Manchester bombing and the Grenfell fire where families have had to cope with sudden loss in the most tragic and public of circumstances.
However the issue of child bereavement is nothing new. In the UK alone it’s estimated one child in every classroom has lost a parent. We also know that 41% of young offenders have experienced a child bereavement. An often-overlooked factor is that young people from deprived backgrounds are more likely to lose a parent earlier and less likely to access counselling.
Death is a subject which parents find incredibly difficult to talk about with their children. In order to combat this, Child Psychotherapist Louis Weinstock decided to create Apart of Me, a revolutionary non-profit digital resource designed to help families cope with grief.
Apart of Me is a mobile game, a safe virtual island where you are supported by an Oracle who acts as your wise guide on the island. There is a magical Cave where you catch fireflies and learn about the different emotions associated with grief as well as evidence-based strategies to deal with them. You can also listen to stories from other bereaved young people from around the world. There is a waterfall where you can find some peace, listening to tailored mindfulness meditations. And there are bottles that wash up on the island carrying Quests: each quest encourages you to create a digital memory box of your loved one (a digital variant on a classic bereavement counselling technique). Nothing like this exists currently anywhere in the world. There are no interactive digital tools using gaming technology that translate the best therapeutic techniques for grief into a safe virtual space. The game’s narrative is based on the hero’s journey. Your character in the game (like you in real life), is experiencing a tragic event, and the best way to grow from this is to learn certain skills (the Oracle teaches you) that will allow you to turn your suffering into wisdom you can then share with others.
The concept of Apart of Me began when Louis was working at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, London. He says that while working there counselling families where a parent had a terminal illness, he realised that “the small number of young people and families who could access our limited service represented a tiny proportion of the number of families really struggling with grief.” Louis decided to team up with software developer Ben Page and set up the social enterprise Bounce Works to create this resource.
Bounce Works’ mission is to overturn the growing crisis in mental health among our youth by creating engaging and effective digital products and services. As Louis says, “Our children are digital natives. They grow up in this world. There are many companies spending millions of pounds to get young people hooked on their technology, often with negative consequences. I realised we needed to meet young people where they are at, learning from some of the techniques of these major companies to capture young people’s attention for just long enough to be able to make a positive impact on their wellbeing and hopefully get their attention hooked on something that will actually help them build emotional resilience.”
Over the past 2 years Ben and Louis have been working closely with a team of advisors, young people and parents who have lost a loved one. They have tested the game with around 85 bereaved families and young people, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Mandy, widow and mother of 2, said: “If we’d had this game available to us when my wife was still alive she would have enjoyed helping him create a memory box and having set tasks to do would’ve made this incredibly daunting task more manageable for her.”
Olly Clabburn, who lost his father to MND, and is now doing a PHD investigating the use of digital legacies for people living with motor neurone disease said:
“What’s amazing and unique about Apart of Me is children can create a legacy alongside their ill family member.”
One of the venture’s main advisors, Jamie, lost his dad to a liver cancer 2 years ago. Without the resources or conversations he needed, Jamie found himself going rapidly downhill, hanging out with the wrong crowd and getting excluded from school. Since being involved with Louis and the Bounce Works project, Jamie has been studying a graphic design course at college, and is getting back on his feet.
He says of Apart of Me:
“If I’d have had something that would have reminded me how precious the time was, before it was too late, that would have been amazing. Since being involved in this project, I have been able to find some meaning from all of those dark times”.
The prototype has received glowing endorsements from people such as Julia Samuel MBE, Founder Patron of Child Bereavement UK and author of Grief Works, who says:
“I am excited to share this badly needed tool with our extensive networks of children, families, and professionals.”
Louis and Ben have plans for Phase 2, the features of which include:
To create the full platform and get it in the hands of the children who need it the most around the world, Louis and Ben are launching a crowdfunding campaign on September 12th.
Bounce Works’ mission is to overturn this crisis in young people’s mental health, using user-centered design and the very best therapeutic techniques translated into digital technology.