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"'Where Children Can Feel Safe': Program Helps Kids Cope with their Parents' Cancer"
(short excerpt)
by Kathy Routliffe
Reprinted with special permission from Pioneer Press, © 2002

When doctors diagnosed Ann Speltz with breast cancer almost five years ago, one of the first things she did was try to explain what that meant to her daughter Amelia, then seven years old.

…Speltz wondered whether there were any resources for children whose parents had been struck with cancer. The former teacher looked around and found support groups for adult survivors, but almost nothing to fit the bill for kids like Amelia.

She realized children with a cancer-stricken parent may think they are alone in the experience.

"When kids' parents are going through divorce, the chances are they know someone else going through the same thing. That's not very certain in the case of cancer, because cancer is still a private thing with many families," she said.

…The program is exciting, said Tom Erf the [McGaw YMCA Child Care Center's] preschool social worker [in Evanston, IL]. He is one of three people who took 10 hours of training to become support group facilitators at McGaw.

"So often cancer takes up so much time in a family that parents don't talk about it," Erf said recently. "Kids can be quiet, too, and parents might think everything's fine, where really the kids are upset, scared or even feeling guilty."

"What this provides is a place where children can feel safe," he said, echoing Speltz.

People who train as facilitators need not be professional psychologists or social workers. What they do need, Erf said, "is a fundamental quality in being empathetic with children and having as a goal providing that safe place."