Acorns Children's Hospice

As headmaster of a large Birmingham special school for children with a multiplicity of disabilities I was periodically faced with the death of a pupil at home, in hospital and occasionally in school.

The year 1982 saw six such children die. Staff and pupils clearly exhibited signs of grieving and the parents, because we stressed the need for a close working relationship with them, came to us for advice and support.

I felt unable to meet these situations adequately and consulted the staff of a number of adult hospices. They however, felt unable to offer help to children and their families

During that period I came across a small unit near Oxford founded by Mother Francis Dominica which became Helen House, the first children's hospice. Frances and her team of nuns were remarkable people and I felt that the techniques that were being developed by them were largely what we sought.

I reported my dilemma to the members of my school's supporting charity "The Calthorpe Association for the Handicapped". They responded immediately (1983) by setting up a steering committee charged with the task of creating a children's hospice to serve the West Midlands area. We conducted a survey of need and found to our great concern that there were likely to be some 600 families with a severely life-limited child at any one time.

'Acorns' Children's Hospice opened in 1988 and currently serves 200 families on the active list with many more whose children has died. It has 10 respite care bed-sitting rooms, a 'special' bedroom, two flats for parents, facilities for day-care, a swimming pool, and a base for the community care team giving support in the children's homes and localities. It has a separate administrative and fund-raising building

The hospice has developed as a centre of expertise and is called on locally, nationally and internationally to undertake training and consultancy. Its education and training services are used to mount courses over a wide range of demands at, for instance university level, through training for professionals in the care services, to courses for members of the Emergency Services (Fire, Ambulance, Police) whose staff are faced with the death of children.

We are about to open a further hospice in Walsall and plan one for Worcester to cater for those families in the north and south of the region at present not receiving a service.

In addition we have helped with the setting up of a number of hospices elsewhere in the country and abroad. We will continue to do so.

Acorns aims to provide a homely environment, "a place for living" in which to deliver day and residential services for children and adolescents who are likely to die within a year of referral. We aim to maximise the quality of life of the young people, assist the parents and other family members to cope physically and emotionally and support them in their grieving. We do this irrespective of race or creed and at no cost to the families.

We receive only about 20% of our costs from statutory sources but are blessed with a great deal of public support which helps us to raise the £3,000,000 needed each year to keep the hospice running. This is without even considering the planned new hospice development.

We also have a large team of trained volunteers who join with the professional staff to support the children and families.

We consistently receive heart-rending statements from family members who indicate that they could not have coped or kept their families intact without the support of the Acorns team.

Tragically many families are not covered which is why we must strive to provide a service wherever young people have limited life expectancy.

Peter Wildblood April 1999