What does a senior caseworker for Sudden do?

Read our interview with Tahira, senior Sudden caseworker, about her role, providing an insight into the vital work being undertaken at the frontline of the service.

What happens when you pick up the phone or go to your email inbox?

Most people entering the service are suddenly bereaved families who need someone urgently to talk to; to help them cope with the shock and devastation they are experiencing, as well as help with urgent practical matters, such as help organising funeral arrangements or financial support. 

We do also have professionals contacting us directly such as GPs, hospital staff, police officers, teachers, social workers, etc, who are referring a bereaved person into our service. We help them to complete a referral form, with the permission of the bereaved person. We aim to keep in touch with these professionals who make the referral, with the permission of the bereaved person, so that they know what support we are providing and for how long. 

We also get calls from friends and extended family, who are worried about a bereaved person and want to help. I spoke with someone today, for example, who was panicking about whether she was doing and saying the right things. We reassure these people and give them simple advice on helping. We offer to call the person they are concerned about directly, with their permission of course, or we advise that they can choose to call us, if and when they feel ready to do so. Some bereaved people prefer to email us as they feel they cannot speak over the phone, due to feeling overwhelmed. 

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the service you provide?

A lot of the bereaved people we helped are bereaved by Covid, particularly referrals into Sudden that reach us from the NHS. It’s a devastating situation. For all suddenly bereaved families at this time, family members can’t see each other, can’t hug each other, or have normal goodbyes in the form of normal funeral or remembrance arrangements. There is all the normal shock and trauma when someone dies suddenly, but they can’t do the things they would normally do and that is really adding to the vulnerable state that people are in, and to their distress and pain. 

Many bereaved people using Sudden have symptoms of post-traumatic stress as a result of the circumstances of their unexpected bereavement. Often, when bereaved by Covid, fears include what might happen to loved ones who are still alive. We help bereaved people understand these responses.

Often, the response to sudden bereavement can be compounded by people’s pre-existing mental health issues and other pre-existing causes of stress too. Issues can resurface or intensify at this time. 

Many people we help are also isolated; they live alone and due to the pandemic things are worse for them, they cannot meet loved ones, or share their pain in person with those closest to them, which leads many people into a very challenging emotional and mental state. Many face to face services, for example for the elderly, are not running due to the pandemic; which contributes to isolation. 

Isolation is one area in which our service is really making a difference. Bereaved people we help feel less ‘alone’ knowing they have contact with us during these extremely challenging days and weeks. We also work in partnership with other services operating “down the line”, for example services for families with children. We identify needs, and then choose the best partners to assist us to deliver the best care possible. 

If we identify that medical assistance may be necessary, we liaise with a bereaved person’s GP, with their permission, in order to access necessary help. We also liaise with mental health professionals and others where needed.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I work from home, and every day is different depending on the cases I have that day. The day starts with myself or a colleague sending out an email to the team in the morning updating everyone on new cases that are in triage awaiting contact and any other relevant updates for the day. The cases then get distributed among the case workers on duty that day. 

I then start work on my own caseload, which can be between 20 to 30 suddenly bereaved families. All cases have vulnerabilities, but seven of my cases are currently flagged as having high risks or vulnerabilities. The support I provide to those people on my caseload includes a range of things in any given day, including emotional support, advocacy, sending resources, talking through coping techniques, exploring what support they already have in place, signposting and referring when needed, and exploring any practical support needed. 

If a case is marked as high risk, it will be because there are complexities such as pre-existing mental health conditions, or often because someone is potentially suicidal or a danger to themselves or others, or because that person is supporting someone else with vulnerabilities that are high risk. If a case is marked as having high vulnerabilities, this is usually where there are concerns around either mental health issues, isolation or other concerns around their wellbeing, as well as having a lack of support from family or friends along with other factors. 

We support and help people to understanding what the common reactions are following a sudden death, coping with the shock, physical reactions associated with shock and trauma, coping techniques they could use, advocacy for further support needed, signposting and referrals to other services people need, as well as obtaining any practical support they may need and provision of information on longer-term grief support services after exit from the Sudden service. 

What are the essential qualities to being a caseworker supporting suddenly bereaved people?

Empathy and genuinely wanting to help people are absolutely key, as well as putting the bereaved person’s needs first and working in a client-focused manner. Personal experience of trauma or knowing about the experiences of family or friends can give you some understanding of what people might be going through and can help to connect with our service users. 

Being professional about what you do and open and honest about how something has made you feel are also important. Case workers have monthly external supervision which helps us offload and reflect on our practice, while still maintaining confidentiality, as well as day to day regular supervision and peer support from colleagues. You have to be emotionally resilient and know your own limits as to what and how you can manage. Working in a supportive team as well as having a supportive and caring manager is important. We have a great manager and a great team. 

What makes you do what you do?

For me, it’s an honor to be helping people during such a challenging point in their lives, it’s more than a job. I like to lift others up and if I can help. I always do – that’s just who I am. To be able to work in a role which is central to helping and supporting those who need it most, is something which I always felt would be an ideal job for me. Being able to provide people a listening ear, words of support and encouragement, talking through all the emotions they may be feelings as well as helping them to put together coping techniques; all makes such a difference for the people we work with. At times, you don’t have the answers, but you let them know that you will walk alongside them and help get those answers. The feedback from the bereaved people we support, while I am supporting them, and when they leave our service, reminds me of why I do what you do. I always thank them for allowing me to walk alongside them on a part of their journey.

If you, or someone you know, has experienced sudden bereavement, Sudden can help. Call us on 0800 2600 400 or contact us at help@sudden.org and we’ll arrange for a dedicated caseworker to call you back. We help from day one, onwards, for the first ten weeks of bereavement, when people are often in extreme need of care and support, suffering from shock and huge change in their lives.

Sudden is reliant on donations. We are a charity-run service. If you’d like to contribute to our crucial work, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, then please donate to Sudden. Sudden is run and hosted by Brake, the road safety charity.