Scott County Schools to launch pilot to support bereaved children; one in nine Kentucky children lose a parent by the age of 18

Scott County Schools will launch a pilot to support bereaved students with a Kentucky Association of Health Plans grant provided to the Kentucky Center for Grieving Children & Families. (KAHP photo) 

By Melissa Patrick, Kentucky Health News

The Kentucky Center for Grieving Children & Families, launched in 2021, has received a big grant that will allow it to team up with Scott County Schools for a pilot program to support children experiencing grief and bereavement, to begin later this month. 

“This initiative is a great opportunity to support the mental health and well-being of our students, a goal that is very important to our district, schools, and community,” Supt. Billy Parker said in a news release

Parker told Spectrum News of a student who lost both parents to overdoses: “That was the first student I thought of when I thought about the fact we were getting this grant. Sometimes, I don’t think people realize until they start digging into what the root cause of some of the issues for our students are.”

The two-year, $90,000 grant is from the Kentucky Association of Health Plans, the trade group for companied offering health insiurance in the state. It will allow the center to offer 16 school-based, 11-week, facilitated grief-support groups for students at all levels in Scott County Schools. It will also include district-wide staff training on best practices for grief support in the classroom and the school setting at large, says the release. 

“Studies have connected childhood bereavement to poorer physical health outcomes (including early death), increased incidence of depression, mental health issues, and far higher levels of substance use and juvenile justice involvement,” Tom Stephens, president and CEO of KAHP, said in the release. “By providing these school-based services, the goal is to decrease the feelings of isolation in students with death losses and to provide coping skills that can help students manage the emotional distress caused by these losses.”

According to state data modeling, one in nine Kentucky children will lose a parent or sibling by the age of 18, with 25% of parental bereavements caused by overdose. “This represents more than 40,000 Kentucky children, enough to fill Rupp Arena nearly twice over,” says the release. 

“We appreciate the generosity of KAHP,” Leila Salisbury, founder and executive director of the center, said in the release. “This grant helps create a service model for school districts around Kentucky.”

Salisbury, former director of the University Press of Kentucky, launched the center in 2021 with a mission of “supporting children, youth and families as they grieve and grow,” according to the nonprofit’s website.

The site says the center offers free school-based grief support groups in several Fayette County schools; free community-based grief support groups for children along with concurrent parent and caregiver support groups at Tates Creek Christian Church; a teen-led online peer-led grief support group for teens aged 13-18 called Peer Healing; and an online anine grief support group for young adults aged 18-30 through a partnership with Kate’s Club of Atlanta. 

It also offers training and education in youth bereavement and provides community and mental health referrals for additional services and support. And, it offers a webpage that includes resources about coping with grief.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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