How to support grieving college students – Part 2

Between 35% and 48% of college students have lost a family member or close friend within the last two years. Grieving college students can often feel isolated and vulnerable, and may feel that no one else ‘gets’ what they are going through. In the second part of this two-part post, co-author of We Get It, Heather Servaty-Seib talks about the book and how it can be used as a tool to support grieving college students.


We Get It is the product of the power and compassion of 33 resilient grieving young adults who took the risk in sharing their stories with others.  As the authors/editors, David and I were honored to receive their stories and to organize them in a way that we thought would be most useful and helpful to others.  As David noted in the prior blog entry, our primary audience of focus is grieving college students and young adults.  We want them to know, through reading these stories, that they are definitely not alone and that in many cases they will find their own thoughts and concerns in print in the narratives of their grieving peers.

As someone passionate about supporting grieving individuals, and who dedicates the majority of her academic and clinical efforts to encouraging and empowering young people in their grief journeys, I have always wanted to assemble a resource for grieving college students. But, over time, I realized that grieving college students did not want or need a book that I, as a counseling psychologist and professor, would write for them! Rather, what students and young adults need is to hear the stories of their peers and to know that they are not the only ones who feel/felt torn, lost, transformed, newly determined about life, etc. I believe this book will make a true difference, and I am proud of David and every single young adult who contributed to this volume.

In addition to reaching out to grieving individuals, this book was also written to offer guidance to those who want to support grieving college students and young adults, including family members, friends, counselors, professors, or university staff members. Reading the stories included here can provide helpful insights into the unique and dynamic nature of grief. If you are someone who is seeking to be a supportive presence in the life of a grieving young adult, we hope you will consider reading our book and that you will leave wiser and better able to acknowledge, normalize, and facilitate the grief of these young adults.

David and I want to express our sincere appreciation to supportive others who decide to read We Get It. You have taken a significant step in making a difference in improving the experience of grief for young adults. By reading the narratives in this book and considering the reflection questions, we hope that you will be able to offer the high quality support that you wish to provide. We know it will mean a great deal to the grieving college students and/or young adults they seek to support.

In the final chapter of the book, we actually provide a list of suggestions for those who seek to offer support to grieving college students and young adults (e.g., non-grieving peers, parents, counselors). We separated the chapter into general tips for supporters and a few additional specific tips for parents, non-grieving peers, counselors, college personnel and professors, and support group leaders. We provide a brief description of each suggestion followed by quotes from the authors to help illustrate the “lived” experience of each of these ideas. These suggestions are tips that grieving students themselves have offered. Some of these suggestions were reported by many, whereas others were only noted by a few. We encourage you to view these ideas as possibilities and be sure to personally evaluate how well each may or may not fit for you.

Again, although our primary focus is on getting We Get It into the hands of grieving college students and adults, we definitely believe that the book can offer real and practical guidance to family members, friends, counselors, professors, or university staff members. You will truly be amazed by the candor, depth of insight, and eloquence of the 33 young adults who share their stories in We Get It.

Heather L. Servaty-Seib, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist. She is currently a professor in the Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program in the Department of Educational Studies at Purdue University, US. Dr. Servaty-Seib also maintains a small, grief-focused private practice. She is well-published in the areas of adolescent and young adult grief, social support and grief, and she is a past president of the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Much of her recent scholarship has been focused in the area of student bereavement, with articles published in both The Counselling Psychologist and Death Studies. Dr. Servaty-Seib was heavily involved in implementing a bereavement leave policy for students at Purdue University, an effort which has set a precedent for other campuses. She lives in Lafayette, IN.

Learn more about We Get It.

Read part one of this blog post.

How to support grieving college students – Part 1

Between 35% and 48% of college students have lost a family member or close friend within the last two years. Grieving college students and young adults can often feel isolated and vulnerable, and may feel that no one else ‘gets’ what they are going through. In the first part of this two-part post, co-author of We Get It, David Fajgenbaum says in his own words how he aims to provide guidance and support for bereaved students and young adults.


Losing a loved one at any age is difficult. But there are certain things about college and young adulthood that can make it a particularly difficult time to grieve. We’re often away from home for the first time and/or at college. We’re going through an intense period of personal and professional development. We’re swamped with assignments or work tasks. We’re often geographically far from our ill or grieving loved ones. We’re supposed to have the “best four years of our lives” and be worry free. Despite having other grieving young adults all around us (one out of three college students reports grieving in the last year), we can and often do feel completely alone and believe that there is no one around us who “gets” what we are going through.

We get it. These are some of the reasons that Heather and I have dedicated much of our lives to helping grieving college students and young adults. Heather has published bereavement research, advocated for young adult grievers as the President of the Association for Death Education & Counseling, and helped to establish one of the only student bereavement leave policies in the nation on her campus at Purdue University. I established a peer-led grief support group at Georgetown University after my mom died, grew the organization into a national movement (AMF) that has reached 3,000+ grieving students on 200+ campuses, and helped to propel college student grief to become a priority issue in higher education in the United States.

But four years ago, Heather and I connected over our mutual concern for all of the students not being reached by my nonprofit and not benefiting from Heather’s research and outreach. We had seen the impact that can be made on a griever’s life when they receive the support they desperately need, and we knew there were many more around the world in need of support and of connection with others who “get it.” Some individuals are able to find and connect with those with similar experiences of loss, whereas others are never able.

We assembled a book of autobiographical narratives written by 33 grieving college students and young adults for grieving college students and young adults. We believe these narratives can give readers a voice and the courage to share their grief experiences with others. We have discovered that one of the most powerful experiences for grieving individuals is to hear even a small element of their own experience being expressed by another. We wanted to make this experience possible for all, regardless of their access to others with similar experiences.

This book provides a window into the many grief reactions and mourning approaches of 33 grieving students and young adults. These young adults contributed their stories to this book to make a difference in the lives of future grieving students through sharing their stories–through showing that they “get it.” Rather than providing a prescription for how grief should be done, they genuinely describe the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors they experienced throughout their grief journeys. The power of this book is in the candid, engaging, and heartfelt sharing contained in these stories. We have offered the whole narratives, organized them based on themes, and provided commentary and reflection questions at the end of each chapter to help grievers to keep actively moving forward. We are so grateful for their beautifully-written stories.

If you are a grieving college student or young adult, we hope our book will be helpful for you and that you will find multiple points of connection as you read. This book was also written to offer guidance to those who want to support grieving college students and young adults, including family members, friends, counselors, professors, or university staff members. If you fall into this group, we hope that this book will provide helpful insights into the unique and dynamic nature of grief.

I’d like to close by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned through my own grieving process and work:

First, helping others through support and community service has been very therapeutic for me , and I’ve heard this from many of our AMF members. The community service component is a particularly helpful way to get guys, like myself, to confront some of their emotions – through actively doing something. Along the same lines, I also get tremendous therapeutic benefit from dedicating my life to fighting cancer. Second, the power of peer support and being able to speak with others who “get it” cannot be underestimated; my support group at Georgetown was my lifeline. Third, we all express our emotions differently, so it is essential that we encourage people struggling with grief to express their emotions in whatever way is most helpful for them. Fourth, even though it has been over 10 years, I still miss my mom and wish that she were still here. But the sadness and intensity has certainly decreased over the years, so that I’m able to integrate my memories and the lessons she taught me to be able to actively move forward.

David C. Fajgenbaum, M.D., MSc, is a Research Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-founder of the National Students of AMF Support Network, a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting college students grieving the illness or death of a loved one. Dr. Fajgenbaum co-founded the organization in 2006 in memory of his mother, Anne Marie Fajgenbaum (AMF). The organization is now a national movement that has supported 3,000+ students on 200+ campuses and raised national awareness about college student grief. AMF now stands for “Actively Moving Forward.” David has been profiled on Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list, the Today Show, Reader’s Digest, and 40 million bags of Doritos.  David received his BS from Georgetown University, his MSc in Public Health from Oxford University, his MD from the University of Pennsylvania, and his MBA from The Wharton School of Business. Dr. Fajgenbaum lives in Philadelphia, PA.

Learn more about We Get It.

Read part two of this blog post.

Can children be depressed?

It may be hard to believe that children can experience depression at a very young age, but as the NHS explains, “10% of children in Great Britain aged between 5 and 16 have a mental health problem, with 4% of children suffering from an emotional disorder such as anxiety or depression.” Lloyd Jones, author of The Princess and the Fog, shares his personal experience with depression as a child and adult, and explains how he learned to cope through his art.

This content was originally posted on Lloyd’s blog.


‘Depression has been something of a running theme in my illustration work for a long time and The Princess and the Fog is obviously no exception. It is a subject that is very  near and dear to my heart as I’ve personally suffered from depression for most of my life.

I first felt as though I had a tendency towards depression when I was a child. I had only a cursory understanding of what it was – namely that it made you feel tired and sad and disinterested in things much of the time – which I felt described me, but I didn’t really know what it MEANT to be depressed or what one was supposed to do about it. I remember I confided in an adult – a family member, I won’t say whom – for some advice. “I think I’m depressed,” I admitted. “What have you got to be depressed about?” they replied, fairly astounded. And that was the end of the discussion. I suddenly felt as though I hadn’t earned the right to be depressed. I was just a kid. I didn’t have anything to be depressed about. I suddenly felt so embarrassed and so intensely alone. I don’t really remember what happened after that but I know that for a long time I wasn’t able to talk to anybody about it again.

It wasn’t until I was 21, in the second year of my BA, that I was first officially diagnosed with depression and put on fluoxetine. Suddenly I was allowed to be depressed. It was okay to talk about it and there were pamphlets and medicines and all sorts of things I was allowed to know about. I had had some experiences in college with herbal remedies and counselling that only seemed to be taken semi-seriously and didn’t really do much for me but this was the real deal. Depression as a theme started seeping into my illustration work as something I finally understood enough to be able to communicate. Projects like the Short Term Diaries of the first year of my MA gained some popularity as an alternative therapeutic tool, and I seemed to reach a lot of people with my short graphic memoir zine There’s A Hole In My Chest and its follow-up There’s a Hole In Your Chest. I was meeting and communicating to increasingly more people who felt the way I did.


Excerpt from ‘There’s A Hole In My Chest’

For the second year of my MA I wanted to do something different, having felt a bit stifled by the Short Term Diaries towards the end of the project. I liked the responses I got to my Hole in Chest books so I thought it might be a good idea to keep the same theme rolling. Writing and illustrating a picture book had been on my bucket list for a while so I thought I’d give it a try.

When I began writing the story I had to do a lot of research into childhood depression to make sure I tackled the subject responsibly and respectfully, and to make sure I got my facts straight. I discovered after struggling to find much that childhood depression was still a relatively new concept and that up until recently it was believed that children could not become depressed. Suddenly I had a bit more context for the loneliness I had felt as a child. There were hardly any books for children with depression out there. There were dozens of books and pamphlets and cartoons and other media for children living with just about any other mental illness you could think of, but not depression. I realised that if I made one, it could actually be really important to someone. A year and a half of working on it later, and here we are.

If I had had a book like The Princess and the Fog when I was a child, I wonder how different things would have been. If I’d known that I wasn’t the only person out there feeling this way, I can’t help but think I might have felt a lot less isolated and desperate, and  perhaps because of that I would have had a better understanding of how to deal with it. That was the book I tried to create. If The Princess and the Fog helps even one kid out there feel like they don’t need an excuse to be depressed, that there’s somebody else out there who’s been through the same thing and survived, and that they can do the same, then I’ll have done my job and I’ll be happy.

Lloyd Jones lives in the south of England. Lloyd has a first class honours degree in Illustration from the University of Portsmouth, an MA in Sequential Design and Illustration from the University of Brighton and he is currently working on a PGCE FE from the University of Southampton. He has learned to live with his fog, rather than suffer from it. Learn more about The Princess and the Fog

Find out more about depression and anxiety in children here.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Princess and the Fog by Lloyd Jones

The Princess and the Fog

by Lloyd Jones

Giveaway ends August 19, 2015.

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Six steps to finding balance in busy lives

It is important to know that life imbalance is one of the biggest causes of stress in the western world; consequently understanding why we experience imbalance in our modern lives, and finding strategies to help you overcome it, is very useful! Teena Clouston shares 6 steps to finding balance in busy lives from her new book Challenging Stress, Burnout and Rust-out.


So what is burnout and rust-out?

Burnout and rust-out are caused by long-term stress; burnout is marked by exhaustion and rust-out by apathy and disengagement. Which of these we experience and when, is variable, dependent on the unique individual and his or her circumstances. Stress and imbalance can be linked to some specific personality traits and thinking patterns that we can unconsciously adopt to manage the daily grind but which, unwittingly, can maintain our state of imbalance and levels of stress.  For example, people who rush around like busy bees, or those that put up with or make excuses for their busyness and overwork are all using different strategies to deal with life conflicts, pressures and time scarcity, but sadly, are failing to diminish stress. Alternatively those that fight back and overcome these pressures seem to be able to live a far more balanced and healthy life because they dare to challenge the status quo and take time to do things they find meaningful or enjoy doing, irrespective of the pressures of work or general over-busyness.

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Resistance is not futile


6 steps to achieve a healthy work-life balance

There are several different ideas shared in the book but if I had to choose 6 they would be:

  • Gain some autonomy over your workload
  • Review and adapt your views and attitudes about work so they become congruent with what you really want in life
  • Share your daily responsibilities with others
  • Do something meaningful everyday
  • Live in the moment
  • Walk in nature

These techniques are not a cure-all in terms of work-life or indeed, more general life balance. That’s because, in reality, they all need you to put in a lot of effort in terms of making changes in how you live your life everyday, and that is not easy. For example, if you are going to use mindfulness techniques to try to focus on the moment or cognitive behavioural strategies to change your thinking or attitudes about life balance, then you have to practice that regularly and put some work in every day. That said, you do need to start somewhere and from small moves big things can grow and consequently, with practice, you can really change your sense of balance, your quality of life and ultimately, your well-being; thus practice may not make perfect, as the saying goes,  but it can make life just a little richer and more satisfying.

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Illustrations by Peter Cronin, ARSMA.

Teena J. Clouston is a Reader in Occupational Therapy and Life Balance at the School of Healthcare Sciences at Cardiff University, UK. Over the last ten years, her research interests have become focused on the meaning and experience of lifestyle balance, and her PhD specifically studied the influences of paid work on finding balance in everyday life. Learn more about Challenging Stress, Burnout and Rust-out here.

Teach your Child How to Fight Anxiety

Natasha Daniels is a child therapist  and has worked with young children and their families for over 15 years. Her book, How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler, covers everything parents of an anxious toddler need to know, to help them tackle everyday difficulties and build up their child’s resilience, independence, and coping mechanisms. In this post she shares some advice on helping your child to fight anxious feelings.  

Teach your Child How to Fight Anxiety….and be a Super Hero!
Teaching your child how to fight anxiety can start at a very young age. I have worked with children as young as two and three that were able to learn skills on how to face their fears. So, roll up your sleeves and start arming your child with skills to overcome their anxiety. It is never too early to turn your little one into a superhero!

How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler - cover image


Set the Battle Ground
Have your child name their worries. Sometimes this will just be Mr. Worry, but you can pick something more specific based on your child’s fears (Mr. Bossy, Mr. Bugs, Mr. Scared, Mr. Sick etc.). Tell them that Mr. Scared likes to boss kids around and make them fearful. Have them create a worthy superhero to fight off Mr. Scared. I like to use the child’s name with Super in front of it (Super John, Super Amber, etc.). Have them draw a picture of Mr. Scared and of their superhero. Prompt them to make the superhero look like them in some way.

Dress the Superhero
Children love dress up and there is something transforming when one is dressed as a superhero. Have your child pick out a superhero costume that they can wear when they are a fighting Mr. Scared. A cape and a mask are always good places to start. If they have a particular superhero that they love – have them dress up as that instead.

Give them the back story
Set the stage for your child by giving them their superhero story. Incorporate your child’s fears into the story. Their story might go something like:

There once was a mean, bossy guy named Mr. Scared. Mr. Scared liked to go around bullying kids and making them feel scared. Every time Mr. Scared was able to make a kid feel scared, he would grow bigger. Super John wasn’t going to let Mr. Scared grow any bigger! When Mr. Scared started telling him to be scared of the dark, Super John didn’t listen to him! He knew he could turn on the lights.

Put on Your Game Face
In my house we have a “Brave Face” pose. Whenever anyone is scared to do something – we say, “Brave face!” and we all put our heads up high and proud. Sometimes duck lips are included. Sometimes it is a full superhero pose – arms on hips, chest pushed out. It is a nice way to empower each other and it encourages us to fight through our fears. At the very least, it lightens the mood and makes us all laugh.


Verbally encourage your superhero
Having your child dressed and feeling empowered is only half the battle. Now they will need actual experiences to challenge and fight Mr. Scared. You want to encourage your child’s independence by giving them the least amount of assistance they need during these challenges. First start by giving them verbal support. You can say things like, “Don’t let Mr. Scared win this battle! Where is Super John? Do you need to get your cape on? Show me the Brave face!!”

Give suggestions to your superhero
Give your superhero some suggestions. You can say, “I know it seems dark upstairs, but there is a light switch right there you can turn on.” Or another suggestion might be something like, “We can sing together as you go upstairs so you know I am still right here.”

Offer limited support to your superhero
When your superhero is lacking some any superpowers – it may be time to call in for back up. The main goal is for your child to feel success, so if you have come to the conclusion that Mr. Scared is definitely going to win the battle, get your kiddo’s back! Offer the least amount of intervention as possible. This might be turning the light on for them or walking half way up the stairs with them. Always premise your assistance with something like, “Okay Super John I will make you a deal. I will turn on the light for you if you do the rest” or “I will go up the first flight of stairs, if you go up the rest.” Getting your child to agree on a plan makes it more likely that they will stick with it…sometimes. If that doesn’t work – pleading helps – “Don’t let Mr. Scared win! I know you can beat him!”

Okay, if all else fails, bribe your superhero!
I know that if someone told me to jump off a high dive there would very little that anyone could say to get me to do it. However, if the price was right – I might be encouraged to face my fears and try to do it. When all else fails offer a “challenge prize.” I will often have families set up a “challenge treasure box” that is filled with dollar store toys and prizes. When your child is faced with a particularly hard challenge, you can offer a challenge prize if they try to do it. You want your child to push themselves just slightly out of their comfort zone. If they are able to do this, but don’t fully complete the challenge you can say, “You were amazing! I know that was scary for you, but you went ahead anyway and tried to do it! You get a challenge prize for being so brave!”

Children don’t turn into superheroes overnight, but if you don’t give your child the skills to fight their fears, they have lost the battle before it has even begun.

This post was originally published on Natasha’s blog: 

Find out about Natasha’s book How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler, read reviews or order your copy here 


Designing The Princess and the Fog

What better way to explain depression to children than with a relatable and enjoyable storybook full of vibrant illustrations? The author of The Princess and the Fog, Lloyd Jones, reveals the motivation behind designing this book and its characters in his distinctive and colourful style. This content was originally posted on Lloyd’s blog.


The Princess


I chose a princess as the protagonist of my book because it is an archetypical character in children’s fiction. If you know that a picture book is about a princess, you can infer a lot about what the story, setting and characters are likely to be based on the countless princess stories you’re already familiar with. I was then able to turn that on its head by introducing new elements to surprise the reader and make the main character of the story much more relatable.

Additionally, princesses are typically revered and looked up to by the children who read their stories. They are something that a lot of young girls in particular strive to be. If a princess can get depression, anyone can. I think it’s important that the children who read my story can relate to its protagonist in quite a personal way so that they know that they aren’t alone and that this thing that they’re struggling with that they can’t explain can happen to just about anyone else. Depression can make you feel very alone, so just knowing that there is someone out there – even a fictional princess – who is going through something similar can be a huge comfort.


The Setting


The setting of The Princess and the Fog is a strange mix of traditional old-fashioned fairy tale and modern day. A huge purple castle sits at the heart of a bustling modern metropolis. The Princess rides horses, everyone else drives cars. Television and print media apparently exist but so do knights and adventurers with swords and shields. This, again, is designed to make the story relatable on a number of different levels. Children will find the fairy tale elements of the situations as familiar as the real life ones.

In my research into writing for children I learned of the importance of metaphor. Children do not tend to like stories with aggressive morals. While the book deals with real-life problems, I have managed to avoid “outing” the children who read it by disguising the issues that young readers may be facing behind metaphors. Readers may understand that the book is describing a situation similar to their own without feeling like it’s singling them out or trying to teach them a lesson. The story is designed to be enjoyed in its own right but with a hidden depth to it that should communicate with any young readers who are feeling the same way as The Princess.


The Fog


In my early design ideas for the book I was toying with various ideas for how to represent depression visually. I had previously used the idea of a hole in one’s chest and an obscured, scribbled out face in an earlier independent project called There’s A Hole In My Chest and didn’t want to use it again as I thought it would be too grim for children. Early ideas included some kind of slow, lazy slime monster not unlike The Doldrums in The Phantom Tollbooth, a hat or helmet of some kind that couldn’t be taken off once it was put on, and a ball and chain, but none of these quite described the feeling adequately. I decided that whatever it was it needed to be opaquely black, thick, impossible to remove and in some way at least partially obscure the protagonist’s head and face to create a sense of loneliness and isolation from the outside world.


The title The Princess and the Fog popped into my head one day and it just fit perfectly. It ticked all the boxes, I could illustrate it in a similar frustrated scribbly way as the obscured faces in There’s A Hole In My Chest, and I just couldn’t resist the pun. The exact depiction of The Fog developed considerably  over the course of making the book before I settled on how it looks in the final product, particularly after notes that it obscured too much of The Princess’s face and could be seen as scary for some readers.


The King and Queen


It was important to me to have the King and Queen both appear very physically strong, in their own ways. The Queen is extremely tall with very large legs but she’s very thin and a little unbalanced, while The King is short and squat with diddy little legs but with a very large upper body. In this way, it shows that they each have their own strengths that make them a very well-balanced team, both as parents, supporters and as the co-rulers of the unnamed kingdom in which the story takes place. Most children will look to their parents as their first port of call in times of crisis and The Princess is no different. The King and Queen are the first two characters to offer help to The Princess in dealing with her affliction. Although they get it a bit wrong at first, they are an essential part of the large support network The Princess is eventually able to put together. I hope any parental figures reading this book will be inspired to be as strong and determined as The King and Queen.


The Supporting Cast


The other characters in the story that The Princess eventually enlists for her support network all play important parts in aiding her gradual recovery. Most of them straddle that same weird line between fairy tale and reality by representing both a trustworthy adversary one might find in the battle against depressive illness and a friendly fantasy character. The Druid, for example, brews up some potions for The Princess to try to help her fight away the fog.


With his lab coat and diplomas, The Druid is clearly a metaphor for a doctor offering to help medicate the problem. But not everybody responds to medication. Everybody experiences depression differently and no one cure exists that will work for everyone, so I felt it important that the story never explicitly states which of the many solutions The Princess uses to try to rid herself of The Fog actually ultimately works.

Lloyd Jones lives in the south of England. Lloyd has a first class honours degree in Illustration from the University of Portsmouth, an MA in Sequential Design and Illustration from the University of Brighton and he is currently working on a PGCE FE from the University of Southampton. He has learned to live with his fog, rather than suffer from it. Learn more about The Princess and the Fog


Exclusive look at The Princess and the Fog

Enjoy this sneak peek at The Princess and the Fog, JKP’s latest children’s book. Vibrantly illustrated, this book was designed to be read with children aged 5-7 who are suffering from depression. 



Once upon a time there was a Princess. She had everything a little girl could ever want, and she was happy. That is, until the fog came…


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Lloyd Jones lives in the south of England. Lloyd has a first class honours degree in Illustration from the University of Portsmouth, an MA in Sequential Design and Illustration from the University of Brighton and he is currently working on a PGCE FE from the University of Southampton. He has learned to live with his fog, rather than suffer from it. Learn more about The Princess and the Fog


What it means to be a transitions social worker

Jill Hughes and Natalie Lackenby are part of a Young Adults Team in Worcestershire that has a dedicated focus on supporting young people with disabilities through the transition to adulthood. As the authors of Achieving Successful Transitions for Young People with Disabilities, Jill and Natalie briefly describe their experiences as transition social workers from their unique point of view.



Transitions Social Work

We are part of a Young Adults Team in Worcestershire that has a dedicated focus on supporting young people with disabilities through the transition to adulthood. We are fortunate to work as a team that has a co-ordinated approach to transition, but recognise that not all workers are so fortunate and some have to navigate these complex issues alone. Having been in this position previously, we know how lonely and bewildering transition can be and we looked for a comprehensive text that would support our practice in this area without success!

Transitions has traditionally been a service area which has been overlooked and under-resourced, and often seen as an add-on to the work of adult teams.  However, in these times of financial austerity there is a growing realisation that resourcing these complex pieces of work in a timely and efficient manner is actually cost effective.

The implementation of the Care Act 2014 has placed a framework of duties on Local Authorities for social work with young people in transition. This has brought the whole area of transitions into focus with clear roles and responsibilities.

In Achieving Successful Transitions for Young People with Disabilities we included practical case studies so as to highlight some of the challenges faced by workers, and offer suggestions of how to overcome such challenges. The importance of empowering young people to be more informed about the transitions process is essential, but equally we need to ensure that practitioners are equipped with the knowledge to successfully support young people to navigate the transition process and make their own decisions about their future.

Natalie’s Background

Social work is generally considered to be a tough job and as a newly qualified social worker in a learning disabilities team I felt ready for the challenge ahead. When I applied for the job, I remember thinking what a vital role this was and I was sure that there would be a wealth of information and resources to draw on. I was fortunate to be in a supportive and friendly team when I started my career almost 12 years ago, but what I soon found to be the most challenging part of my job surprised me somewhat.

I was different; I was the transition social worker. Unlike the other social workers in the team, my role focused on supporting young people from 14+ to think about adulthood and support them through a transition from children’s to adult services. It became evident that the issues faced by the young people I worked with differed from those faced by clients other team members worked with. Similarly, the challenges faced by my colleagues in their roles, were significantly different to the challenges I experienced in mine. I looked for guidance and found lots of information aimed at parents and carers but limited practical information for professionals about navigating the transition process.

I often found myself as a lone voice in a large school review trying to explain a number of systems, processes and policies to anxious parents and young people. In fact it was pretty lonely as a transitions worker.

My colleagues remained supportive, offering and advice and information where they could, however, I always felt that my role was unique, combining traditional social work, with a strategic approach that identified a need for future service provision. In 2012, the council recognised the need to have a strategic approach to transition and developed a county wide transition team to which I was transferred, the Young Adults Team.

Jill’s Background

I moved to the Young Adults Team in 2012, as it was being set up.  My background was primarily older people, but I had also worked with younger people with a physical disability. Prior to social work training I had also worked as an advocate and support worker to adults and children with a learning disability.

I was very apprehensive initially about a move into team where I was unfamiliar with the specific work, in an area that is often complex, with the added complication of it being a brand new team.  When looking for textbooks or practice guidance to support me with the move, I was surprised that there was nothing available to guide practitioners, and this left me further in the dark about what transitions actually meant, both to the workers and the young people experiencing it.

As a newly set up team, we all grappled with the challenge of transitions, but luckily we were in the position of learning from each other, and sharing experiences both positive and negative.

Jill Hughes is an Advanced Social Work Professional in the Young Adults Team in Worcestershire, UK, which manages transitions for young people with disabilities and complex health needs between Children’s Services and Adult Services. She has led on Practice Development Groups, facilitated reflective and interactive supervision in both one-to-one and group sessions, and she has a particular interest in personalisation and person-centred planning. Jill also provides sessional lectures to students completing access courses, BA and MA studies at the University of Worcester and Heart of Worcestershire College.

Natalie Lackenby is a social worker in the Young Adults Team in Worcestershire, supporting young people with physical and learning disabilities through the transition to adulthood. Natalie has worked as a Transitions Social worker since 2003, and prior to joining the Young Adults Team, she worked as part of the community learning disability team. Natalie has a BA in vulnerable adults and community care, and she has given lectures around learning disability, legislation and policy and the transitions process to undergraduate and postgraduate students at the University of Worcester and Heart of Worcestershire College.

To learn more about Achieving Successful Transitions for Young People with Disabilities click here.

What about parents who aren’t able to emotionally connect with their child?

Jane Evans, trauma parenting specialist and author of Kit Kitten and the Topsy-Turvy Feelings and How Are You Feeling Today Baby Bear?, writes about the importance of giving children the best chance to catch up on their emotional awareness and build their emotional vocabulary.

Evans-KitKitten-C2WThere are many reasons why a parent or carer might not be able to be emotionally connected and available to a child. It might be that they did not have that kind of childhood so they aren’t aware of the benefits of talking with a child about their own and others’ feelings. Or, it could be that they are preoccupied with their own unmet emotional needs, living with domestic abuse, addiction, an eating disorder, high levels of stress and anxiety or other physical or mental illness, any of which could create a distance between them and the child they are raising.

What it doesn’t mean is that they don’t love their child as that’s a different matter altogether, it’s often more that they are not able to tune into and regulate their child’s emotional needs and state. This can have a lasting impact on all areas of a child’s development as they may struggle to express and cope with their daily emotions and this can then get in the way of their learning, being able to make friends, have fun and enjoy a carefree childhood.


The story of Kit Kitten shows how Kit becomes withdrawn, watchful and is often overwhelmed by not being able to put feelings into words and from not having a close adult to help unpack all of them in a safe and manageable way. This is something I have repeatedly seen in the parents, children and young people I have been working with for over two decades now. It causes such emotional distress and anxiety, and often leads to mental and physical illness from the stress of feeling emotionally invisible, stuck, overwhelmed and isolated.

Kit Kitten and the Topsy-Turvy Feelings aims to address this missing emotional connection early on to offer children the best chance to catch up on their emotional awareness and build their emotional vocabulary by encouraging adults to begin this vital work with them in a gentle way. Emotional intelligence is the key to good mental health, to being free to access learning and to building healthy long-term relationships for life.


‘If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.’

– Daniel Goleman


You can find out more about Jane’s work, upcoming events and read more of her blog posts on her website: You can also follow her on twitter: @janeparenting2

Preparing a child with ASD for a move to another country

Jones_Talk-to-Me-Conv_978-1-84905-428-7_colourjpg-printHeather Jones is the author of Talk to Me: Conversation Strategies for Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum or Speech and Language Impairments – in this new blog she talks about what it has been like to relocate to the UK with her son Jamie, who has an autism spectrum condition.

Since moving to Australia 30 years ago I hadn’t given any thought to returning to England, but when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it became apparent that he would need my help I started making the arrangements. In August of 2014 I moved to the UK with my son Jamie, who has high-functioning autism. He was then 19 and it was a huge decision for us to make this move.

Jamie’s main problems are his severe speech and language impairments. The work that I have done with him to help improve his communication I ended up turning into a book (Talk to Me: Conversation Strategies for Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum or Speech and Language Impairments), he has long since passed his driving test, got his own car, held down a part-time job at a nursery and become far more comfortable socialising. I had my concerns about how he’d adjust to life in England, but I also had a huge amount of faith that all the work we had done would pay off and he would continue on as the independent person I’d worked with him to be.

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I wanted Jamie to come with me because I would simply have missed him too much had he stayed in Australia, but I was faced with the prospect of removing him from the friends, hobbies and habitual living that had been a huge part of improving his communication and this was a problem.

I made my arrangements very clear in my head, I knew how long we were going back to the UK for, where we would be living and what Jamie would be doing. I wrote down all my plans and then told Jamie as if it were a fait accompli.

“Jamie, we’re going to England.”

“Oh… Right.”

(Then, as is Jamie’s way, came the questions over a period of hours and days).

“Where will we live? …. What will we do? …. Will I still drive? …. Will I work?”

We were lucky in two instances – my sister Ellie and her children (now in their 20s) all lived in the same town and she had just taken over a pub. This meant that Jamie had a ready made group of friends (or cousins) and that my sister could offer him a job there and my responses to Jamie’s questions could be reassuring:

“We’ll live in Malvern near your cousins… And you’ll get a job in the kitchen at Ellie’s pub.”


pubWherever possible, I answered honestly and clearly. I got Google maps and photos out and we looked at the place we would be living. I took out photos of the cousins and we Skyped them to get Jamie familiar with their voices and homes and as a result I found that Jamie, while not wholly embracing the idea of moving away from all the things he knew, was more accepting of the prospect of moving.

When it finally came to getting our flight to the UK I tried to give Jamie as much responsibility for our situation as I could. I asked him what information we needed and guided him to the screens or gateways to find out the answers. In fact, we took two other flights during our stay in Britain – one to Paris and the other to India – and during both I tried to involve Jamie. But he finally said to me, “Mum I can’t do it. Can you, please?”

I realised that this type of organisation was too far beyond him at this stage of his communication development. However I still thought the process was rewarding for him and I will certainly take up the practice again when we next travel by plane.

Settling Jamie into a routine he was happy with in England was a serious challenge and one that I know other parents have faced in the past and will in the future.

Firstly he needed steady work, a routine built around establishing an income. Jamie could work at the pub and although he had never done anything like that before (and this would undoubtedly increase his anxiety levels) his cousin (David) was a very calming influence in the kitchen and before long Jamie was accustomed to loading and unloading the dishwasher, labeling foodstuffs in the fridge, peeling the vegetables and developing an instinct for what needed to be done.

That kind of initiative has taken a great deal of time to develop in Jamie and I am sure that the work we have done together has contributed to this. I’ve made sure that he has been able to continue with activities he has grown accustomed to at home, playing on the Xbox, going to the gym and going to see live music in some of the local pubs. With the help of family and friends Jamie has settled down surprisingly quickly and expanded his skills in ways I had never previously thought possible.

Heather Jones is the author of Talk to Me: Conversation Strategies for Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum or Speech and Language Impairments which is available in paperback or e-Book from Jessica Kingsley Publishers