he Mission of RAINBOWS is: ‘Healing Hurt, Restoring Hope’.It is about bringing colour and light back into lives, which have been darkened by a cloud or a storm. This is very much at the heart of our Mercy charism.

Every year thousands of children face bereavement through the death of a parent, grandparent, sibling or close friend. There are many more young people who have to suffer the effects of other difficult life events, such as divorce, separation, abandonment, parent in prison or other causes of family breakdown. Verbal and physical conflict between two people a child loves is emotionally painful and upsetting. The very people a young person needs for love and support are often not emotionally available to them because of their own adult pain. These young people think they are the only ones suffering in this way so peer support is helpful.

RAINBOWS believes that children need to go through a process of grief but their expression of this grief differs from adults at each stage of their development. Children do not just ‘get over’ such things! They need help and support to successfully negotiate these traumas. Providing them with loving support, whilst they share their feelings of anger, sadness, rejection and low self-esteem, can help them in their healing process.

If young people do not receive help and support at such times, they can so easily become involved in addictive behaviours to anaesthetise their painful feelings and promiscuous sex in order to satisfy their craving for love. They may feel let down by parents so their trust is destroyed, making it difficult for them to form stable relationships as adults. If feelings are suppressed these young people can so easily turn to a life of crime and/or end up in multiple broken relationships.

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Following in the footsteps of Catherine McAuley, the Sisters of Mercy have a special care for such children and adults. They support the work of RAINBOWS in various ways, including some Sisters who work for the Organisation.

RAINBOWS provides a 12 week peer support programme complete with journals, games and story books so that young people can meet together in groups of around five, with a trained adult facilitator. At Primary level the programme is called RAINBOWS, at Secondary level it is SPECTRUM, and at adult level PRISM. There is also a programme for pre-school children called SUNBEAMS and a crisis response programme called SILVER LININGS – all words to do with colour and light.

We train school and agency staff to run the programme with a six hour training day and continue to give them ongoing support and advice. On these occasions we often find that it is the adults who need to talk about their traumas and so we make ourselves available as loving, caring listeners. We also have an annual four-day training programme for people prepared to work with the organisation as trainers.

The ultimate goal of RAINBOWS is to have the participants respect and help each other so that everyone will have a safe and happy atmosphere in which to come to terms with their grief and their changed family circumstances.

Parents often say, ‘Children are so resilient!’ They can be, given the right support. The following story brings what we have read to life.

Two six year old boys were playing in the school playground. Their game quickly became a serious fight! – not just the usual fisticuffs of small boys. The Head Teacher rushed out to separate them before serious damage was done! When some calm had been restored she asked one little boy why he was fighting so hard. Pointing at the other child he replied, ”He’s stolen my daddy and he won’t give him back!” The child’s father was now living with the other child’s mother and meeting the other child at the school gate each evening. Imagine the anger and sadness of that child and yet they both had to learn their numeracy and literacy in the same class! RAINBOWS says, “It is hard to learn when you’re hurting inside.”

Similarly a small child, who, every time she went to the park rushed around to every man she saw and asked, ”Are you my daddy?” The child had never known a father.

We see this care for the family as very much a Work of Mercy. We feel sure that if Catherine McAuley was here today she would surely be trying to help such families. Her own life and that of her early companions was very much about ‘Healing Hurt, Restoring Hope’.