Seasons for Growth
The Intervention - Seasons for Growth
Seasons for Growth is a small group programme that combines psychology and education with peer support, within a person-centred learning approach. The four seasons are used as a metaphor to explore the cyclic nature of grief and is based on William Worden’s four tasks of grieving. Seasons for Growth aims to strengthen the social and emotional wellbeing of children and young people (aged 6-18 years old) who are dealing with significant life changes by exploring the impact of the change and loss on everyday life and learning new ways to respond to these changes. The programme is facilitated by two trained adult “Companions” and runs over 8 sessions with small groups of 4-7 participants. To access further information about Seasons for Growth click here.
Notre Dame Centre (Glasgow) is the national license holder for Scotland. They offer support with implementation and training to sites across Scotland.
The Education Outreach Worker Service (ASN), Shetland Islands Council
The Education Outreach Worker Service is part of the Education Outreach Team (Additional Support Needs) working closely with the Educational Psychology Service within the Schools Service at Shetland Islands Council. The Shetland Islands are located in the Northern Isles of Scotland with a population of around 23,000 people. The aim of the Education Outreach Worker Service is to support and develop the health and wellbeing of children and young people in Shetland, thereby helping them to fulfil their potential.
Seasons for Growth is delivered to groups of young people in both primary and secondary schools throughout Shetland. There are two group formats that are delivered: one for targeted groups of children and young people who may have experienced loss or significant life changes such as through bereavements and relationship breakdown (such as separation or divorce), and another targeted adapted version for some pupils transitioning from primary to secondary school. Both group formats are aimed at groups of similarly aged children or young people.
Lynn Nicholson is a Senior ASN Outreach Worker who shared her experiences of their service implementing and delivering Seasons for Growth, over the past 17 years.
NEED – Making the Decision about Seasons for Growth
Local need: From local knowledge of children, young people and families through teaching staff, social work, heath and their third sector colleagues, the Schools Service recognised the need to support children and young people struggling with loss, changes, and transitions. As many children in Shetland move from very small schools, at times far from their homes, to significantly larger secondary schools, the transition is significant in terms of size and, some children must leave their family homes to board at school on the mainland of Shetland.
Programme Selection: Given the population served, it was felt Seasons for Growth could be targeted to help improve the health and wellbeing of children and young people who had experienced significant loss, change or transitions.
In 2003, the Local Authority’s in-service training programme brought Moira Sugden (Scotland’s National Co-ordinator for Seasons for Growth) and David Murray, both trainers from Notre Dame, to Shetland to run a two-day training event. Eleven practitioners were trained, four of whom went on to deliver and become accredited “Companions” (group facilitators).
Lynn explained “We had such good training and we thought it was an excellent programme as change and loss affects every person at some time in their lives.”
Intended outcome: Lynn said that the intended outcome of implementing Seasons for Growth is to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of young people who have experienced significant loss or changes due to death, family breakdown or transitions. Seasons for Growth aims to normalise participants’ experiences and increase protective factors, such as building personal resilience and social skills, whilst minimising some risk factors, such as isolation, that influence mental health and wellbeing. The programme also supports the development of communication, decision making and problem-solving skills. Lynn believes it not only helps to provide information and reduce social isolation, but most importantly it allows children and young people to know that other people have felt like they do, they are not alone, and they are not to blame. Local Shetland feedback indicates that pupils feel more confident and have an increased ability to discuss emotions.
Local Reach: Lynn estimates that since 2003, she and her colleagues in Shetland have delivered at least two loss and grief groups a year (with up to 7 children in each group). Some years, they have run as many as ten of these groups, often on an adhoc basis, depending on the individual needs of pupils, and the capacity of staff to be released often on a responsive basis. The primary to secondary school transition group is run annually (with up to 40 children) and continues to be offered on a rolling basis.
Lynn explained that although their aim is to embed the programme in all Shetland schools as a rolling programme, this has not been consistently possible due to the various demands that individual schools face. However, there are a core group of establishments who have embedded the programme as part of their core curriculum to promote the children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing as it fits perfectly within the Curriculum for Excellence Health and Wellbeing outcomes.
FIT – How Does Seasons for Growth fit with the Education Outreach Worker and the Community?
Lynn reported that Seasons for Growth fits well into their service’s remit and ethos to help promote children’s health and wellbeing throughout their education journey. As change, loss and transitions affect every person at some time in their lives, Lynn stated that she felt the programme compliments the other evidence-based programmes the Education Outreach Worker Service offers.
In terms of the primary to secondary school transition group, Lynn explained that education staff felt certain children could benefit from an enhanced transition programme with other pupils from their school cluster or associated school group that they may not have had an opportunity to meet otherwise, in order to reduce isolation. Due to the geographical spread of children in Shetland, instead of being delivered over 8 separate sessions, the sessions ran over two days. This modified programme provides an opportunity for a cohort of pupils to discuss any anxieties surrounding the significant transition from primary to secondary school, as well as an opportunity to meet other young people going through similar feelings and circumstances. While the programme differs slightly in terms of its focus, there remains an emphasis on change and loss in terms of the transition.
As part of implementation, the service looked at other evidence-based interventions available in the community to align this work with other available services. From the start of their implementation, they worked closely with local multi-agency colleagues including those within the council (such as teaching staff, youth services, and social work), and externally with third sector colleagues (such as Women’s Aid), as well as within health (such as Health Visitors and CAMHS) to identify practitioners to be trained and to ensure appropriate referrals were made.
Initially the programme was promoted through word of mouth, but it is now an established and integral part of the Education Outreach Worker Service’s delivery. Bereavement Packs issued to all schools contain some of the key resources and referral information to run a group. Practitioners can only run a group if they have received the training from the Outreach Workers after being endorsed by their line managers. Once a year promotional information about the programme is sent out through the local networks. Lynn explained that although her team is not the only service offering bereavement work in the community, they are able to specifically focus on the needs of children and young people.
Lynn stated that she felt schools are the most appropriate places to deliver the groups as they are attended by most children and young people, and they can easily meet other pupils. Furthermore, in line with Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, the ‘Getting It Right for Every Child’ (GIRFEC) approach aims to support children so they can grow up in a safe and supportive environment, and Seasons for Growth can be considered as part of the ‘Nurture’ wellbeing indicator. The groups allow open discussions, where the pupils can have conversations and ask questions about grief, loss and change which they may not have had the opportunity to do before. She reported that the structure of the programme, based on the seasons of the year, is something everyone can relate to and is what makes it particularly effective.
One Companion who has run Seasons for Growth groups said:
“The children all respond well even if they have not had a direct, close bereavement. I am so privileged to be able to run this in my school.”
Lynn noted that the feedback they collect from pupils, their teachers and their families who have attended the groups is very positive, staff report they have consistently seen improvements in children and young people’s social and emotional wellbeing.
One pupil said: “You learn how to care for your feelings, and it can help you with other things too.”
When asked, “What would you say to a friend about Seasons for Growth?”, another pupil replied, “It’s a good thing to do and it helps with coping with your emotions and I would do it again.”
One parent feedback form noted: “...this was a useful programme. My child was a bit concerned about opening up about some issues but became more relaxed and happy to do so as the course progressed.”
And another parent said about the group: “It has got my child talking about issues they may not have considered before, some of which can be quite difficult to begin a discussion about.”
Lynn said that she believes the programme is effective because it “normalises loss and change in our lives” and ensures that pupils know that any changes “are not their fault” and their feelings associated with these are natural given their experiences. Lynn felt this is a “really powerful” message that the children and young people learn throughout the group.
SUPPORTS – What Supports did Seasons for Growth Provide?
From initial implementation, the Education Outreach Worker Service received support from Seasons for Growth both in Glasgow (the Notre Dame Centre) and Australia (the original developer). Lynn noted that from their first contact, her team found them both to be very supportive, responsive, and approachable. Notre Dame provided the training for the Companions, Trainers and Local Co-ordinators, and facilitates networks which Lynn recommends and has found useful, particularly during the COVID pandemic. This has helped to ensure that the Education Outreach Worker Service and Shetland Islands Council have enough trained staff in their service to maintain their capacity to deliver a rolling programme of Seasons for Growth groups. After delivering for seven years, Lynn and her colleague had the opportunity to undertake the train the trainers programme in 2010.
Due to the processes and systems already in place within the council they did not require supports with staff selection, administration, recruitment, or promotion from Seasons for Growth.
Many supports from Seasons for Growth are optional, but Lynn explained Notre Dame is available to answer any questions for Companions, Trainers and Local Co-ordinators by phone, and email, and recommended accessing their supports. Seasons for Growth and Notre Dame also provide leaflets and information on their website which can be used during delivery and to promote the programme.
Training: Lynn advised there were no specific prerequisites for participating in the Companion training other than a genuine interest in supporting the wellbeing of children and young people and the endorsement of suitability from a line manager, with an expectation that employees would go on to deliver groups as part of their role. She reported that she thought the 2-day specific training for Seasons for Growth was comprehensive, with a good and easy to follow manual.
Data collection: In the service they use the paperwork developed by Seasons for Growth to gather feedback from the participants at the end of a group; feedback is also requested from parents and teaching staff. The Education Outreach Worker Service Administrator collates how many groups are run and the attendance levels and sends this anonymised data to Notre Dame. The Companions also complete a self-evaluation form (like a reflective log) to reflect on the progress of the group, to develop their own practice and to share with the Local Co-ordinators.
Financing: The Education Outreach Worker Service fund the initial inhouse training for Companions but costs of running the groups (such as refreshments) and the journals required by each participant need to be met by the local establishments running the programme (usually schools). The Education Outreach Worker Service can lend the programme manuals to Companions for the duration of the delivery of the group. Seasons for Growth is now core business for the Education Outreach Worker Service and so is funded mostly through the main service budget from the Schools Service.
Referral and recruitment: As the team were able to utilise existing referral systems in place for working with schools and other teams, to recruit to the programme, there was no need to seek support from Notre Dame to develop a referral or recruitment strategy. However, informal online support from Notre Dame is available if required. Referrals continue to come from multi-agency colleagues, and they have strong links with the schools who have referred children and young people over the years. Referrals initially go to the wider Education Outreach multi-disciplinary team. To establish a viable group, Lynn and her colleagues then contact the referrer to establish if there are other young people within a school that would benefit from the programme. Parents and pupils must also confirm their consent to attend.
USABILITY - What was the Education Outreach Worker Service’s experience of implementing Seasons for Growth?
Lynn stated that she thought that the targeted programme provided straightforward, understandable and useable resources (the manual and materials). Lynn reported that through the training and delivery of groups, she and her colleagues have developed a good understanding of the group content, resources, tasks, and activities required for each session.
Modifiable components: Lynn reported that although there is a specific structure and focus to the programme, the group offers flexibility. There are agendas and activities for the group sessions but that there are also opportunities to make it personalised and tailored to individual groups’ needs. This allows the exploration of topics or discussions as they arise and flexibility around the activities they use in the groups.
In part due to the geographical challenges, limited transport links and the importance of having support face to face (rather than just using online groups), the team received permission from the programme developer to adapt the Seasons for Growth model.
Fidelity: As part of the evaluation of the programme and to monitor fidelity, the Companions complete a self-evaluation form to reflect on the progress of the group, to develop their own practice and to share with the Local Co-ordinators. The Local Co-ordinators can provide feedback to Companions or offer support if required. The Local Co-ordinators can also offer to run groups with Companions when required, particularly during the first time they run the group.
Accreditation: Seasons for Growth offers an accreditation pathway for practitioners which can take up to a year. This involves delivering at least one group, submitting both reflective logs and participant feedback forms to the Local Co-ordinators, accessing supervision from Seasons for Growth and attending at least one local Reconnector meeting to share learning with other Companions locally. It does not require their practice to be viewed.
CAPACITY – What is Shetland and specifically the Education Outreach Worker Service's capacity to deliver Seasons for Growth?
Depending on demand, up to 10 groups per year are run (with the focus of loss and grief) across Shetland and within the authority (primarily by education, but also other services such as social work and the third sector). The Education Outreach Worker Service also aims to deliver approximately one large or two smaller Seasons for Growth transition groups a year (for the targeted primary to high school transition cohort). Some specific schools also deliver this programme themselves for their pupils. They currently have around 20 staff trained to deliver Seasons for Growth within Shetland, 10 of whom are actively delivering the programme. This is helpful as this means that more experienced staff can co-deliver with newly trained staff and provide support to one another. Lynn noted that if they delivered fewer groups there would be the potential for children and young people to struggle unnecessarily.
Lynn noted that with the capacity in their team (2 dedicated Outreach workers who are Companions, Trainers and Local Co-ordinators, and an Administrator) they have the necessary time to promote the programme, recruit children and young people for the groups, liaise with referrers, support staff capacity locally, and attend relevant training, supervision, and conferences themselves.
Staff prerequisites/experience: Lynn advised that an “Endorsement of suitability from Employer/Organisation” form must be completed by the applicant’s Line Manager to be trained as a Seasons for Growth Companion. Applicants are required to have:
Suitable qualities to deliver Companion groups (e.g. be empathic, be interested in supporting children and young people’s wellbeing);
Fulfilled Child Protection Legislative Requirements (e.g. Disclosure Scotland); have Public Liability and Professional Indemnity Insurance.
Although there are no specific job role requirements in order to be trained, it is essential that Companions can speak about their own experiences of loss and change as it is important, they model how to talk about these feelings and experiences. It is also helpful if Companions have delivered groups and have worked with children and young people. Companions come from a range of backgrounds and disciplines across different sectors.
Time commitment: Lynn reported that the time commitment for delivering the group varies but involves several weeks prior to the group for recruitment and administration, up to a day a week. The Education Outreach Worker Service Administrator helps with room bookings, distributing manuals and preparing resources required for sessions. The group is eight weekly sessions of 50 minutes, with a final celebration session on the ninth week. Companions require about 30 minutes before and after the groups to prepare/tidy up, plus travel time. Companions follow up with teachers and parents’ post-group, to collect feedback and complete their own self-evaluation forms.
Companions are invited to at least two local Reconnector meetings a year. Trainers can attend a Trainers Network through Notre Dame to access training, support, and supervision. The Local Co-ordinators also attend trainings, meetings, and conferences where appropriate through Notre Dame. Lynn stressed the importance of these ongoing supports.
Although Lynn would like for the programme to be universally available to all, in the absence of that it was essential that the programme was targeted appropriately and not undertaken until the natural grief process had been given an opportunity to take place.
Lynn stated, “the mechanisms to ensure fidelity are what makes the programme robust and why Shetland have been delivering it for almost two decades.” Through her extensive experience of working with children and young people and from feedback from teaching staff, Lynn reported that she knows the programme works.
According to Lynn, endorsement from the head of the organisation and support from management is vital to ensure that individuals’ job plans and responsibilities are aligned with the services they should be providing. “Buy in from senior management is crucial from the very start. It is key for sustainable delivery.” She also stated it was vital that services worked collaboratively with one another to provide an integrated approach in promoting children and young people’s health and wellbeing.
“To ensure sustainability the programme needs to be valued at different levels throughout an organisation, both on the ground at the point of delivery to pupils but also by managers, and senior management.”
Lynn recommended that services considering implementing Seasons for Growth, take any opportunities to learn from other organisations delivering. Lynn recommended robust planning and preparation for groups. She said not to be concerned about any of the conversation or topics that arise as it is relevant to children and young people and the Companions role is primarily to facilitate and participate in the discussions and to listen rather than have all the answers.