Grief is a normative response to loss with the potential to impact on all aspects of a young person’s life. It is oftenan unwanted intrusion with painful and difficult consequences.  For practitioners working with young people who have experiences of grief there are a number of practices identified here for working with young people where grief is prominent. Some are informedby the therapeutic practice elements and where there is no link identified, knowledge and practices from the grief field and practice wisdom have been applied. 

Considerations for different practice contexts

The modalities through which youth AOD practitioners engage young people and either deliver interventions or facilitate the delivery of interventions are:

  • Clinic based settings
  • Outreach / casework
  • Day programs
  • Short-term residential units with a focus on respite and withdrawal
  • Long-term residential services that provide supported accommodation and rehabilitation

Clinic based settings

  • As contained environments clinic based settings provide a potentially safe and grounded place for young people to explore their experience of grief and to interact with a practitioner.
  • Grief may be a trigger for consultation, such as circumstances where there has been a sudden death in the young person’s network or family or it may be a background issue that emerges as part of other work.
  • Where a counselling role is negotiated between worker and young person attention to the impact of grief issues can take a singular focus or be weaved into the ongoing work.
  • At times clients might need to be referred for expert care. It is also possible to seek secondary consultation where a client naturally expresses a reluctance to be referred on.


  • Through outreach, practitioners have the opportunity to be proactive in locating and connecting with young people and families in environments where they feel comfortable. This increases access and maximises the likelihood that young people and families will turn to youth AOD practitioners for support when needed.
  • Practitioners must be mindful about the suitability of the setting when discussing painful issues. Private, safe spaces are required to continue conversations that may commence in less structured, more public circumstances.
  • The practice of working alongside young people and families in a range of contexts offers practitioners more potential to observe and unobtrusively monitor client’s level of distress and the impact of grief in their lives
  • Clients can require expert intervention to better manage and/or work through their grief.  Outreach workers are well positioned to link their client with expert care and support their participation.

Day programs

  • Day programs offer young people a safe space that young people can attend at their own discretion and in their own time. This provides young people who are grieving greater control over accessing support when they need it.
  • Day Programs can also provide a place for practitioners from other agencies that might be able to assist to engage with young people.

Residential services

  • Residential services offer young people safe, age appropriate, substance free, living environments for young people. The structured environment and 24-hour care could be very useful for a young person whose energies are invested internally so that their interest in caring for themselves has diminished. Where the grief is particularly acute mental health services might need to be involved.
  • A client’s substance use might be masking or helping young people cope with underlying grief. Practitioners working in these substance free environments should be aware of the indicators that a young person is struggling with grief and be prepared to respond.
  • Prior to admission, residential services should seek to understand any significant losses that the young person has experienced and any unresolved grief that they are dealing with. This enables services and practitioners to be proactive in planning to support a young resident throughout their placement. This includes establishing sensitive and realistic expectations for how a client will participate in any programming and how the individual can function best among fellow residents.
  • Residential environments may further bring grief issues to the fore for young people. Being physically separated from family and friends and away from familiar environments may itself elicit a grief response.