Outreach, Welfare

When a child loses a parent

Children and youths experiencing grief and trauma from a broken family background or the death of a parent are often unable to articulate their feelings effectively or find closure in their lives. Fortunately, with an early intervention programme launched by FamilyWorks Community Services, help is at hand.

An outreach arm set up jointly by Methodist Welfare Services and Changi Methodist Church, FamilyWorks has been running this programme for primary and secondary school children living in and around Punggol since 2011. Named Rainbows for all Children, it began as a grassroots mission in the USA in the mid-1970s that was championed by Ms Suzy Yehl Marta.

Suzy realised there was a lack of support for her three sons following a devastating divorce. Founded on the belief that youths and children require support and guidance to heal, the programme has grown into an established movement of trained facilitators supported by a repository of specially-designed resources.

In Singapore, FamilyWorks has adapted the programme to the needs of local children, youths and families. Serving those aged between eight and 14 who are experiencing the loss of a parent through estrangement, divorce or death, Rainbows aims to provide them a safe and warm environment to express themselves effectively, sort out their confusions, build self-esteem, and ultimately learn to trust again. Along the way, participants are encouraged to pick up social-emotional skills or “tools” to deal with potentially destructive emotions such as anger, and to find the strength to move forward.

Ms Catherine Goh, manager of community services at FamilyWorks, explains: “We follow the same structure, themes and basic content as the original programme, making use of the same student manuals. However, we complement them with local stories and customised activities that are more suited to our local context and participants. We invite parents of our younger participants to join us for the Celebrate Me Days, and also organise annual bonding activities and outings for our alumni and their family members.”

The programme takes the form of a peer-supported, closed group facilitated by a trained, voluntary adult facilitator, who conducts a weekly session over 13 to 14 weeks. Each session takes an hour and 15 minutes to complete, except for the middle and final sessions, which last for three hours each.

Just like how Suzy created Rainbows out of a pressing need four decades ago, FamilyWorks’ programme in Punggol was introduced to address an existing service gap. Catherine also notes that while schools in the district offer many programmes for children and youths, they are made for the general school population and student leaders. “There was a noticeable lack of support given to niche groups of students who might need specialised care and support. That’s why FamilyWorks brought in the Rainbows programme to try to plug the gap and meet this need,” she adds.

The Rainbows programme does not receive much government subvention and relies primarily on public donations. So far, a total of 101 children have completed the programme, and FamilyWorks hopes to reach out to 40 more children in 2017.

“Volunteers play a crucial part in the success of this programme, and because the sessions are held on weekdays, the challenge is in recruiting help,” says Catherine. “Most of our volunteers joined us through word-of-mouth. FamilyWorks plans to hold a volunteer recruitment drive through roadshows, and will also scout for interested parties through our MWS Ambassadors.”


Volunteers interested to sign up as trained facilitators in the Rainbows programme can forward their applications to catherinegoh@mws.sg or meloding@mws.sg. Applicants will undergo an interview to assess their suitability, after which they will attend training sessions lasting half a day over two days.

To find out more about other volunteering opportunities or supporting FamilyWorks financially, please visit the MWS website at www.mws.sg/volunteer to sign up, speak to your MWS Ambassador at your church or email us at volunteer@mws.sg. To donate, please log on to give.mws.sg.


By the Methodist Welfare Services Communications Team

Photo courtesy of the Methodist Welfare Services