Seasons for Growth provides children and young people the skills & knowledge to adapt to change following loss or grief experiences

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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)
  • Refugees
  • Prisons/prisoners
  • 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)

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. After numerous requests from the community, an adult program was developed in 1999 and in 2002 Seasons for Growth (2nd ed.) Children & Young People was launched.

At the request of end-users, Seasons for Growth has been adapted for a range of contexts in which grieving children, young people and adults need support. For example, incorporating research on the specific needs of children involved in natural disasters, the Stormbirds program was developed in 2009. It has supported more than 4,800 CYP impacted by Victorian bushfires, Queensland floods, other Australian natural disasters and New Zealand (NZ) earthquakes.

In 2010 Seasons for Growth’s Adult Program 2nd ed. was launched. It reflected updated research and broader uptake of the program into specific contexts (e.g. prisons which required adaptations for limited learning resources). From 2011-16, 7,751 adults participated in Australia, Scotland and New Zealand.

Following requests from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders for an Indigenous adaptation of the program, Seasons for Healing was launched in 2012. Elders and Indigenous-led organisations collaborated on program design, Indigenous researchers were employed to guide program adaptation and 176 program companions were trained for program delivery.

A Parent Program was also developed for separation and divorce (2013) and for death of a loved one (2015). The Parent Program is significant as CCYP research indicated that parenting capacity is often impaired following major change and loss in families and assisting children without providing appropriate support for parents was unlikely to deliver optimal outcomes. The Parent Program incorporates research about children’s needs and empowers parents to support their children.

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.

In 2011 several community-based refugee organisations requested a trial of an adapted version of Seasons for Growth. The trial yielded positive outcomes and 51 program companions were trained to deliver the program in Australia. The adapted program, with its sensitivity to diverse cultural backgrounds, is now being widely used to assist refugee children in Australia and Scotland.

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.

Seasons for Growth’s early success engendered areas for further research which were supported by Australian Research Council funding of $1.4 million (3 Linkage Project grants and 1 Discovery Project grant) and $505,000, total, cash contribution from industry.

In 2002-03 Professor Graham investigated teacher self-efficacy and confidence with Dr Renata Phelps (also of SCU) in the provision of mental health education. Professor Graham also worked with Dr Robyn Fitzgerald (SCU) to research children’s experiences in contested family law proceedings (2002-03), and the notion of children’s ‘best interests’ and hearing the voice of the child in family law proceedings (2003).

Professor Graham and Dr Fitzgerald also researched children’s involvement in decision-making in family relationship centres in 2006-2008 and, in 2009-11, they worked together with Dr Phelps and Dr Judy Cashmore (Adjunct Professor, SCU) to explore innovations in professional practice to support children’s participation in family relationship centres. Informed by a 2010-11 evaluation of the Seasons for Growth children’s program, Professor Graham, Dr Fitzgerald and Dr Donnah Anderson (SCU) researched parenting capacity following separation/divorce (2010-11).

A study of ethical issues in researching with children was undertaken from 2011-16 (Graham, Powell, Taylor, Fitzgerald and Anderson), alongside a 2015-18 project on the ethics of researching sensitive issues with children (Graham and Powell). An investigation of ‘best practice’ in facilitating participation of children in family law processes was undertaken by Professor Graham with Professor Judy Cashmore and Dr Anderson (2014-16).