Limerick Person of the Month: Sr Helen lifts children's spirits in troubled times

Founder of Children's Grief Centre is honoured for her service

Aine Fitzgerald


Aine Fitzgerald

Limerick Person of the Month: Sr Helen lifts children's spirits in troubled times

Sr Helen Culhane accepting the Limerick Person of the Month award Picture: Adrian Butler

THE FOUNDER of a local support service which has helped in the region of 1,000 children affected by loss through death, separation or divorce, has been named the Limerick Person of the Month.

Sr Helen Culhane, a native of Croom, founded the Children’s Grief Project in 2009.

Now known as the Children’s Grief Centre, it provides grieving children and young people with a place and space where they are given the opportunity to examine feelings associated with loss, and learn that they are not alone.

The service, which is based at Westbourne, Ashbourne Avenue, South Circular Road in the city, is provided by trained and experienced people.

“We have seen nearly 1,000 children. We could see between 25 to 30 children a week, aged four to 18 years,” explained Sr Helen this week, after being presented with the Limerick Person of the Month award.

Seventy per cent of the children who attend have separated parents while 30 per cent have suffered a bereavement.

Sr Helen is a qualified social worker and psychotherapist. Sr Helen worked for 13 years with the Health Board in the area of child protection. She also had two years’ experience in child psychiatry.

In 2001 Sr Helen went to Milford Hospice to work as a senior social worker.

“I honestly thought I would retire from Milford,” she explained. “When I had read a report that Limerick has the highest rate of separation in Ireland, I wanted to do something.”

While she was in Milford Hospice, Sr Helen did some bereavement work with children.

Sr Helen spoke to Sr Peggy Collins, Provincial of the South Central Province of the Sisters of Mercy who had previously worked in the Bedford Row Project.

“She told me to get a group of professionals together.”

Sr Helen got a number of people on board including a GP, school principal, social worker, family therapist and people with a legal background.

At the moment they have 120 young people on their waiting list and the wait is eight to nine months.

Currently, she says, they have a “funding crisis” and are in desperate need of support to continue their good work.

In total, there are approximately 30 volunteers attached to the centre. The volunteers include a retired career guidance teacher, a play therapist, psychologist, psychotherapist, and an art therapist.

There are 10 people working directly with the children.

They use workbooks with the children which brings them through the grieving process.

“On average, when I look at our stats, they come for about five sessions. We bring them back three or four months later for a review. We get them to do an evaluation. The biggest comment is ‘you listened and were non-judgmental’.”

A big aspect of the service is getting parents to realise the damage that strained relationships can have on their children.

“Children whose parents are separated say things like, ‘Helen, I have been caught in the middle all my life. I have been used as a pawn’. When parents are told that, they say, ‘I didn’t realise I was doing that’.