Supporting Children and Young People through Change, Loss and Grief:
An Evaluation of the Seasons for Growth Program
In February 2010, Good Grief Ltd (Australia) commissioned Southern Cross University's Centre for Children and Young People to:
refine the existing Seasons for Growth (SfG) evaluation tools
use the new tools to conduct a larger scale evaluation of the SfG program
The evaluation covered 57 groups in three countries (Australia, New Zealand and Scotland). 334 children and young people aged between six and sixteen participated. 44 Companion surveys and 30 parent surveys were also completed. A pre and post survey was created for children and young people, and a post-only survey was created Companions and parents. All surveys were administered using Qualtrics online survey software, although a paper based parent survey was also developed for distribution to families without computer and/or internet access.
The SfG program addresses an increasingly common area of need. Almost one-third of Australians under 18 experience the loss of a parent (through divorce, separation or death), and children and young people are also dealing with a range of other changes and losses. The evaluation found that the SfG program:
1. helps children and young people experiencing change, loss and grief through
building participants' understanding and skills - participants' self ratings showed widespread, statistically significant improvements in their emotional literacy and their understanding of change
improving participants' emotional wellbeing - parents and Companions felt that the program successfully supports participants' self-confidence, self-esteem and resilience, with 31% of participants also nominating ways it had helped their emotional wellbeing
enabling participants to express their views, thoughts and feelings - participants' self-ratings showed significant improvements in their capacity to express themselves, and parents also perceived and extremely significant improvement in their child's capacity to express their views
strengthening participants' social and support networks - one third of Companions nominated network-related themes as the main learning for SfG group participants. Both participants and parents also mentioned ways it had helped the child's social and support networks.
2. is valued by parents, carers and young people
participants enjoy their SfG experience and value it very highly - participants particularly enjoyed being in a group, having a Companion as a guide and being listened to. These high ratings were supported by very enthusiastic responses to an open question asking how participants felt about coming to a SfG group.
parents value the SfG program - almost all parents felt the SfG program met their expectations, most often in relation to helping their child realise that other children have similar experiences, and allowing their child to express their feelings and/or thoughts.
Companions value the SfG program - Companions were confident in their capacity to effectively facilitate groups and most felt they had been changed but their involvement with the SfG program (through improved understanding about children and in their own personal qualities).
The evaluation report recommendations include:
1. The SfG program warrants more widespread implementation across a broad range of participants and contexts.
The SfG program addresses a significant area of need which can have long-term impacts on mental wellbeing throughout the lifespan. It is a particularly acceptable and appropriate way of addressing this need, especially among primary school-aged children. There seems to be an urgent need to train additional Companions, and/or to better resource existing Companions in increase capacity to meet the demand for SfG groups at some sites.
2. Further evaluation is required to review the SfG program's implementation and impact for older participants, particularly within secondary school contexts.
Unfortunately, few older groups were available for inclusion in this evaluation, making it more difficult to draw confident conclusions about the SfG program's acceptibility and impact for these young people. Further feedback needs to be gathered for young people, Companions and secondary school principals to confirm the anecdotal evidence that substantial benefits can be delivered for older participants.
3. Additional research is needed to determine the longer-term impact of the SfG program.
With increasing focus on the life-long importance of children and young people's social and emotional wellbeing, and the inevitability of encountering major changes through life, a larger and longer term trial would provide more conclusive evidence regarding the SfG program's contribution.
4. The SfG program may be further enhanced by a review of its content and activities.
It is almost ten years since the SfG program was last reviewed. Therefore it would seem timely to ensure that the program still fully reflects the most contemporary evidence in the field.
5. The SfG program may be further strengthened by the inclusion of a 'parent' component, for the families and carers of children and young people attending a SfG group.
Although not a major focus of this evaluation, responding parents indicated that they could be interested in getting involved in a SfG program for parents. Gathering additional feedback from parents and carers about their neecds would be a useful starting point.
6. Following some minor revisions, Good Grief should strongly encourage all SfG Trainers and Companions to utilise the new evaluation system as a routine part of conducting their SfG groups.
Given the large numbers of children and young people attending SfG groups (over 10,000 annually across five countries) this could provide an invaluable data source for more nuanced research regarding children and young people's experience of change, loss and grief. Good Grief (Australia) is delighted with the overwhelmingly positive nature of the evaluation, and will be planning its response to these recommendations in the near future. They will be shared with Trainers and Companions later in the year.
Access a summary copy of the report here
Access a copy of the full report here
An Evaluation of the Seasons for Healing Program for Aboriginal Family Support Services SA
by Dr Keith Miller and Mr Michael Bull - School of Social and Policy Studies, Flinders University, June 2014
The Seasons for Healing Program is an indigenous educational loss and grief program developed and implemented by Aboriginal Family Support Services in South Australia (AFSS) in consultation with Good Grief Ltd. in Sydney. This report presents an evaluation of the Seasons for Healing program by evaluators from the School of Social and Policy Studies at Flinders University.
A steering committee oversaw the development of Seasons for Healing between 2011 and 2014. An Advisory group was instrumental in providing leadership to the project and effectively and sensitively adapting the Seasons for Growth program into an indigenous context to create Seasons for Healing. A pilot phase was conducted in 2012. Following changes recommended by the evaluation team, an implementation phase was conducted from late 2012 and into 2014. The evaluators were included from the beginning in the advisory group and this meant that they were given insight and perspective into the program which led to a more beneficial evaluation outcome.
Primarily, the Seasons for Healing program meets the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation National Performance Indicators, and in particular the National Outcomes of:
1. Strengthened social, spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing
2. Strengthened connection to culture
3. Strengthened cultural identity and pride (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation, 2011)
For this, the Aboriginal Family Support Services SA and Good Grief Ltd. are to be congratulated.
In particular, it can be said of the Seasons for Healing program that:
° The National Performance Indicators for th Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation have been met and the program is considered to be culturally safe for companions and participants.
° The development of the Program in 2011 by the advisory group was conducted openly and ethically with a high regard for the cultural and emotional well-being of companions and participants.
° The research phase was conducted in close consultation with the advisory group and the Indigenous people with an emphasis on the educational focus of the program.
° In the writing and development stage, the program was tightly structured and clearly scaffolded to ensure that the Seasons for Growth remained as the basis for the Seasons for Healing program but that the adaptations were culturally appropriate.
° Strong and critical discussion by the advisory group ensured that the aspects of the Seasons for Healing Program discussed in the research phase were translated into the writing and development phase. Feedback from the companions and community members involved in the pilot phase of the program was then communicated to the writers and further alterations were made for the implementation phase.
° Following the pilot phase, changes were recommended in terms of the program, organisation and training. The advisory group decided on the final changes which would be made for the implementation phase.
° The implementation phase has been spasmodic in its implementation into communities. According to senior management at AFSS, one significant reason for this was the current workload on staff.
° An important recommendation to AFSS from the pilot phase of the program was that the training, preparation and delivery of the program be incorporated into the ongoing workload of AFSS staff members. During the implementation phase, AFSS senior management made the decision to do this to enable the Seasons for Healing program to become an ongoing and integral part of the delivery of services for AFSS to Aboriginal communities from 2014.
° The 'train the trainer' model envisaged an experienced trainer accompanying a new trainer so that the new trainer would receive training on the job. New trainers would be chosen from experienced Companions. The advisory group recognised the significance of implementing this model. The ongoing viability of the Seasons for Healing program in each community will be determined by how well new trainers are engaged.
° Empowerment evaluation empowers Indigenous communitiees and participants. Through the activity of evaluation, companions and communities were empowered, the voices were heard and their opinions were respected in developing in the final Seasons for Healing product. This is reflected in the changes made following the pilot phase.
° The impact of the Seasons Healing program on communities was recognised as being both positive and immediate. The initial apprehension observed with a new program dissipated once community members became involved. Participant groups in every community who were engaged in both the pilot phases became immersed in the program and found it to be a valuable, rewarding and meaningful experience. Many said they would highly recommend it to other members of their communities. No evaluative measures have been made of the long-term benefit to communities. A recommendation is that a further evaluation should occur in due course.
° Mutal benefits for both Aboriginal Family Support Services and for Good Grief Ltd have occurred. There has been honest interaction within the advisory group and positive feedback from community members provided to Good Grief Ltd in their development of the program. This has been balanced with the expertise around trauma, loss and grief provided by Good Grief Ltd which has been shared with participants.
° Reflective learnings from the Seasons for Healing program are that AFSS need to incorporate Seasons for Healing into their regular suite of programs and companions need to have done the program as participants before becoming companions. Secondly, the program needs to be integrated into communities so there is a greater acceptance of its validity.
Seasons for Growth provides children and young people the skills and knowledge to adapt to change following loss or grief experiences.
THIS RESEARCH RECEIVED A ‘HIGH’ RATING FOR IMPACT IN THE AUSTRALIAN RESEARCH COUNCIL’S ENGAGEMENT AND IMPACT ASSESSMENT 2018-2019 NATIONAL REPORT.
Overview of Impact
LOSS AT ANY TIME IN LIFE CAN BE CHALLENGING. Southern Cross University developed the Seasons for Growth program to support children and young people following death, separation, divorce and other loss experiences. Seasons for Growth was adapted to support refugee children, young people in suicide ‘hotspots’ and children involved in natural disasters. The program has also been adapted for adults experiencing loss, Indigenous people, prisoners, and parents of children in the program.
Since 1996, 260,000 children, young people and adults in five countries have taken part in Seasons for Growth. The program has given participants a new start, a chance to transform their experiences of change and loss and to move forward with confidence and hope.
Children & young people
Parents experiencing bereavement, separation or divorce
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples
Survivors of natural disasters (floods/bushfires/earthquakes)
Government departments/authorities (e.g. Education/Family and Community Services/Local councils)
Government and non-government schools
Community organisations (e.g. family relationship centres/disability organisations/out-of-home care/aged care)
Foundations and NGOs (e.g., headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation)
Details of the Impact
EXPERIENCES OF LOSS AND GRIEF FEATURE IN THE LIVES OF MANY CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE. Almost one in four Australians aged 18-24 experience divorce or separation of their parents (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010) and 6% experience the death of a parent during childhood (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013).
PROFESSOR ANNE GRAHAM, Director of the Centre for Children and Young People (ccyp) at Southern Cross University, authored Seasons for Growth (is an evidence-based, small-group, psychosocial education program providing children and young people (6-18 years) with knowledge and skills to adapt to significant changes following death, separation, divorce and other loss experiences. Launched in 1996, it is the only such program developed in Australia that is nationally and internationally available.
SEASONS FOR GROWTH IS STRUCTURED AROUND THE METAPHOR OF SEASONAL CHANGE, Worden’s task theory and contemporary evidence about what children need to know and do to adapt to loss. The program emphasises agency: accepting the reality of the loss, working through the pain of grief, adjusting to the new situation and emotionally relocating the person or thing. It promotes resilience and self-esteem, normalises grief, builds peer support and fosters positive coping strategies.
SEASONS FOR GROWTH (3RD EDITION) CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE WAS LAUNCHED IN 2015. This edition synthesised and integrated the findings of much of CCYP’s research from the preceding decade, including contemporary interdisciplinary understandings of childhood (emphasising children’s agency as well as vulnerability), children’s rights, grief theory, understandings of wellbeing (subjective wellbeing grounded in children’s conceptualisations) and Honneth’s recognition theory.
SUICIDE IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH FOR 15-24 YEAR OLDS IN AUSTRALIA (24% of male and 15% of female deaths, respectively). In 2015 headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation requested a trial of Seasons for Growth as a suicide post-vention in schools. CCYP researchers modified the program, and having conducted a successful trial, trained 72 companions and rolled it out into communities across Australia identified as youth suicide hotspots.
BETWEEN 2011 AND 2016 81,993 PEOPLE (91% of them children or young people) participated in Seasons for Growth in its various adaptations in Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. Since its development in 1996, the program has delivered significant social benefits to over 260,000 children, young people and adults in Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, England and Republic of Ireland.
UPTAKE IN SCOTLAND HAS BEEN SPECTACULAR. The Scottish Government funded a National Coordinator for the program from 2008 resulting in training of 2,204 companions and participation of 24,210 children and young people in the period from 2011-16. Seasons for Growth won a City of Edinburgh Council Children & Families Award in 2011. There is solid evidence that it has made a very positive contribution to the social and emotional well-being of Scottish children and young people.
SEASONS FOR GROWTH ALSO PROVIDES THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT WITH AN EVIDENCE-BASED, credible program to support children and young people facing loss. While schools were previously the major sites for Seasons for Growth in Australia, 27% of programs are now run through community agencies. In 2005 Professor Graham gifted the intellectual property in the Seasons for Growth program to the newly-established non-profit organisation Good Grief Ltd, which was established to administer Seasons for Growth programs across Australia and coordinate mandatory training. From 2011-2016, Good Grief trained 3,098 companions who delivered the suite of Seasons for Growth programs and seminars to 50,280 people (85% of them children or young people).
IN 2009 ACCESS ECONOMICS REPORTED THAT NEARLY A QUARTER OF YOUNG PEOPLE IN AUSTRALIA AGED 12-25 HAD SOME MENTAL HEALTH DIFFICULTY. The direct financial cost of this mental illness was estimated at $10.6 billion. Proven intervention programs such as Seasons for Growth, which raises self-confidence, self-respect, self-esteem, and lowers depression and anxiety, provide economic benefit to Australia by lowering health costs. However, any economic benefits that may flow from Seasons for Growth are overshadowed by the social benefits that have accrued from this program in its many forms. Seasons for Growth has given thousands of children, young people and adults a new start, a chance to transform their experiences of change and loss and move forward with confidence and hope.
NOTE: report summary only. The full report is located at