Helping Kids Heal

Rainbow Canada offers support to kids dealing with loss.

Helping Kids Heal


John Perks was in Grade 4 when he experienced devastating loss – his parents divorced, and his grandparents, with whom he was living, died soon after. “I was having a really rough time. My body was reacting. I was vomiting. I was afraid. I hid behind the couch whenever someone came over,” he says.

“Thankfully,” says John, “I was able to join the Rainbows Canada program at school, where volunteers listened to me, cared about what I was going through, and just made me feel special. I stayed in the program for five years, until I was in Grade 9 – I found the support I needed to heal.”
Rainbows is a program that supports children and youth who are experiencing a life-altering crisis. “The groups provide a forum for listening and peer support,” says Nancy Newton, National Director of Rainbows Canada. “It’s for children going through any kind of loss, such as separation, divorce, death, abandonment, or living in foster care.”

The program was started in 1983 by Suzy Yehl Marta, a divorced mother from Chicago who was going through loss, says Newton. “She went to a retreat in order to heal and when she returned her children thought she seemed better. Then they asked her what they could do to help themselves heal. She found there were no peer support programs for children. So, she decided to develop a program aimed at children going through a loss and it started in four schools in the Chicago area.”

Rainbows now operates programs in 17 countries and has been in Canada for 22 years. A not-for-profit organization, it provides specially designed curricula for children from three years old to university age. The programs are led by volunteers, with no cost for the children and youth. They can take place in schools, places of worship, social service agencies, hospitals, hospices, daycare centre, family resource centres – anywhere children gather.

Programs for all ages

According to Newton, 80 to 85 per cent of the meetings are held in schools, with a facilitator who could be a teacher, part of the support staff, a secretary, a child and youth worker or trusted parent volunteer. Facilitators must go through six hours of training provided by Rainbows.
At the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland Clarington Catholic District School Board, for instance, the Rainbows program operates in both elementary and secondary schools, explains Karen Stoker, Special Education Consultant and Rainbows trainer. “Sessions are run on a volunteer basis, and leaders sign up as they might do for basketball.”

Meetings are usually held once a week for 12 weeks and last from 1⁄2 to 1 hour. In addition, there 

are two “Celebrate Me Days” where children from all the groups at one location get together. “Every 
school and every year is different,” says Stoker. “Some schools might not have any groups running that year, while others have three groups a year.”

Programs are geared to age. The participants use journals, activities, games and stories to help them talk about their feelings of loss and their grieving process. The younger groups have between three and five participants, while the older groups have between six and eight, each with a trained adult facilitator.

The information discussed in the group is confidential. In addition to helping the individual child, “Rainbows really helps in forming relationships within the school,” says Stoker.

In the event of a large scale emergency, such as a death in a school, Rainbows also offers a community crisis response program for young people from kindergarten to Grade 8. The sessions can be facilitated by a classroom teacher or guidance counsellor after the initial response team goes home.

Changing lives

“I wouldn’t be married or be a functioning adult if it hadn’t been for Rainbows,” says John Perks. “It changed my life. In fact, I founded a non-profit organization when I was 16 years old and where I still work, called Rescue Ministries as well as a Christmas Dream program ( to help families and youth at risk. I saw how important it was to help young people when they need it, so they don’t have to endure a life of suffering.”


About Rainbows

Rainbows offers age-appropriate programs for children and young people dealing with loss.


Sunbeams – for children 3 to 5 years old
Rainbows – for children 6 to 13 years old
Spectrum – for children 14 to 18 years old
Kaleidoscope – for students of university age
Prism – for parents and step-parents of children who are attending the program


To find out about groups in your area, call 1-877-403-2733 or visit, click on your province and the nearest town or city for the contact person in your area.

Author: Joanne Culley

Joanne Culley is a writer and documentary producer with two sons; or

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