When young children are facing the loss of a loved one, communicating with them in a sensitive, open and age-appropriate way can make a big difference to the way they process what’s happening and come to terms with their loss in the longer term.

That’s why St Luke’s, caring for more and more parents of young children, has launched a pilot to provide much needed support for these families. Lisa Carter is the dedicated Patches Family and Children’s Support Worker, Patches being the cute Koi carp character who’s fast becoming a familiar face at the specialist unit at Turnchapel.

Patches was created by St Luke’s talented Graphic Designer Jesse-James Cambridge with the help of illustrator Marie Arroyo to extend a  fin of friendship to children facing loss. As well as featuring in ‘Remember with Patches’, a pre-bereavement activity book and the play room, our fishy figure provides clues around the grounds of the specialist unit as part ofa fun trail.

On creating Patches, Jesse said: “Patches is a great tool for Lisa in her work, but also acts as a way for children to learn about St Luke’s and continue making memories at home. We decided to give the pilot a ‘mascot’ character at an early stage, and with a beautiful Koi pond at Turnchapel and being so close to the ocean, a fish seemed like the right choice. Children reading the book at home will be able to visit the real Patches when they arrive at Turnchapel – this familiarity should hopefully alleviate some of the fear they might have on their first visit.”

“The myth that fish have very short term memories gave the character a relatable motive to children who might not yet understand what a memory really is, as well as the importance of making memories with their loved ones.”

“In the interactive storybook, Patches learns how the people he loves are always with him in his memories. That’s a powerful message that children can relate to, and I hope it helps them come to terms with what’s happening to their loved one. This project was a real privilege to work on.”

Lisa – who was a Healthcare Assistant at St Luke’s for nine years before moving into this role – is using Patches as part of her work. She has been busy supporting over 50 children following the launch of the pilot in November 2017, with referrals coming through the Social Care team at St Luke’s.

Describing her work, Lisa said: “Every family’s situation is different so it’s really important that I work with them in a way that’s tailored to their specific needs. Sometimes that involves just a phonecall, sometimes much more hands-on support. I can also refer them to other agencies that can help.”

“I arrange to meet the parents or grandparents to talk through what’s happening and find out how they want to be supported, what their children are aware of and what they want them to know, before going on to meet the children either at home or at our specialist unit.”

Lisa’s focus is on supporting children through the trauma and explaining what’s happening in a way that’s appropriate to their age. Her background in healthcare is proving invaluable to this. “My experience helps me to describe things such as catheters and weightloss sensitively, which helps prepare children for the changes they’ll see as the health of their loved one deteriorates,” she said.

As part of her work in building a rapport with the children, Lisa often uses arts and crafts activities, such as making sun-catchers or painting moneyboxes. “This is something the children enjoy,” said Lisa. “And the distraction of creating something is an effective way of opening up difficult conversations with them.”

“While it is very sad that these children are facing something so difficult, it’s really encouraging to see the difference this support makes to them, being appropriately sad and grieving in a healthy way.”

To read the online story book, or access the free downloadable resources for children, visit the Remember with Patches page of our site.

The Patches project was made possible with the generous support of The Morrisons Foundation.