Professional background

Nye Bevan Award 2000 Jenni receives the Nye Bevan Life Time Achievement award

Jenni is a member of a number of professional bodies including; the Royal College of Nursing, the Voluntary and Users Group of National Perinatal Epidemiology (NPEU) and was a committee board member of BOOST-II UK which looked at improving the treatment of extreme pre-term babies. She is on the advisory board of the Journal 'Infant' for neonatal and paediatric healthcare professionals, and has written for numerous industry publications including the Paediatric Intensive Care Society and Palliative Care for Children and Families. She updated the Bereavement Chapter of the Mayes' Midwifery Text Book 2011.

Jenni has received numerous awards for her contribution to the field of bereavement. These include:

  • 1991 winner of the Palliative care Award for Excellence at Oxford Region.
  • 1996 runner-up in the Guardian Jerward Award.
  • 2000 joint winner of the Nye Bevan Lifetime Achievement award for her work as Paediatric and Maternity Bereavement Facilitator within the Buckinghamshire Hospitals NHS Trust.
  • 2002 OBE awarded in recognition of her work in the field of child bereavement.
  • 2002 winner of the Voluntary Sector category of the Public Servant of the Year award.
  • 2007 awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Buckinghamshire New University in recognition of a lifetime's work carried out both locally and nationally for the NHS and the Child Bereavement Charity.
     

Special Care Baby Unit

Jenni nursingJenni on the Special Care Baby Unit

Jenni began her career in the NHS working on the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU), Amersham Hospital, and then on Maternity and Paediatric Units, first at the Royal Berkshire Hospital Reading and then at Wycombe General Hospital SCBU, High Wycombe. It was whilst working on these specialist units that Jenni realised that the emotional needs of bereaved families were not being fully recognised and that the staff caring for those families had been given little training on how to support them. Supported by Sister Jean Macdonald and colleagues, Jenni recognised the vital importance of listening to and responding to the needs of grieving families both in the hospital and in the wider community.

"I realised we were very good at providing nursing and medical care when a baby was very ill but were less able to communicate and engage with parents when their baby was not expected to live or had died." Jenni Thomas

1980 A new approach to Bereavement Support and Counselling

PicnicPicnic for bereaved children

Jenni trained as a counsellor and later in Humanistic Psychology and person centred art therapy. In 1985, she set up the first bereavement counsellor post in the NHS at Wycombe General Hospital. Having identified the need for a new approach to bereavement, she put protocols and policies in place across all areas of patient care. From accident and emergency units to chaplaincy departments, Jenni educated and encouraged staff to act as advocates for vulnerable, grieving families and it was to these families that Jenni turned to guide her work and provide input into the many training resources that she designed and produced.

1991  Secondment to Oxford Regional Health Authority

Grieving After the Death of Your BabyJenni's secondment as Maternity and Paediatric Bereavement Facilitator for the Oxford Regional Health Authority enabled her to develop her vital work. Whilst training for a diploma in Humanistic Psychology at the University of Surrey, she continued to work as a bereavement counsellor devising and producing a wealth of training material based on the needs of both grieving families and the professionals who were caring for them, including doctors, nurses, midwives, social workers, health visitors and all those working in the wider community. This included her first book, 'Supporting Parents when their Baby Died' for professionals and the training videos 'Death at Birth' and 'When our Baby Died', produced with Brad Williams. During this time Jenni, together with bereaved families and staff, raised funds to establish the Snowdrop Garden, a burial place for babies and children in High Wycombe Cemetery.  It was also during this time that Jenni had the idea of founding a charity to take her work forward.
 

1994  Founding the Child Bereavement Trust  

Child Bereavement TrustIn 1994, Jenni founded The Child Bereavement Trust (CBT), now Child Bereavement UK, and started work as the Director. For several years the charity was based in Jenni's home, and for many years her mother Joan Brown was an invaluable support and donated her home for storage of the charity’s resources. Dr Geoffrey Guy gave his premises In Harley Street, London for training courses. The CBT was launched on 24th September at the Royal College of Nursing in the presence of Diana, Princess of Wales. On 25th September, bereaved families joined the Bishop of Buckingham for the official opening of the Snowdrop Garden.   

In 1996, Countess Mountbatten of Burma agreed to become the CBT’s Honorary President. She proved to be an invaluable support to Jenni as the charity went from strength to strength.

In 2001, Jenni was appointed the first non-executive member of the Retained Organs Commission (ROC) which was established as a Special Health Authority to advise and oversee the return of organs and tissue to bereaved families across the UK. The final Report "Remembering the Past, Looking to the Future" was published in 2004.

In late 2003, Ann Chalmers was appointed Chief Executive and the Trustees appointed Jenni as the charity’s President. Jenni undertook this role, until 2009, in addition to continuing her work with the Buckinghamshire NHS Trust.

2004  Launching Child Bereavement Support in Singapore CBSS

Children’s Memorial in Singapore

In 2004 Jenni’s niece, Amy Fennell, asked Jenni to help improve the level of bereavement support available in Singapore to families who had lost children either as a result of the Asian tsunami as well as other tragedies.  Jenni travelled to Singapore to meet with Dr Lim Sok Bee at the KK Children's Hospital and Sonya Szpojnarowicz, a bereaved mother who went on to found and become President of Child Bereavement Support Singapore (CBSS). Jenni attended the launch of CBSS and for the following five years provided training in Singapore for professionals as well as support to bereaved families.

2006-2009 Becoming President of the Child Bereavement Charity

In 2006, The Child Bereavement Trust rebranded and became the Child Bereavement Charity (CBC). In 2012 the charity became Child Bereavement UK.  Today, the charity is the leading provider of support and information to those affected by the death of a baby or child, as well as bereaved children. It also provides training for the professionals who work with these families and children. Jenni was Founder and Director of Child Bereavement UK from 1994 until 2001, Chief Executive until October 2003 and President until July 2009. Prince William first supported the charity at a polo match in 2003 and became the charity's Royal Patron on Mother's Day in March 2009.

Throughout this time, Jenni continued her work as Maternity and Paediatric Bereavement Facilitator with the Buckinghamshire Hospitals NHS Trust until she retired from the NHS in 2008. Her unique training model continues to serve as a benchmark for many other UK sectors including the police force, social services and education.

 

NHSRosie's Rainbow Angus Lawson Memorial Trust Bucks New University