This December, on International Volunteer Day, we are celebrating the long history of Sands, and the amazing contribution of hundreds of volunteers across our support services, running our events, contributing their skills to our committees and our Board.

40 years ago, in 1979 a group of grieving parents in Western Australia found there was limited support available for parents following the deaths of their babies. At that time in WA, most parents were not allowed to see, hold or bury their babies after they had died. The group met with Libby Lloyd a social worker at King Edward Memorial Hospital, and it was decided to start a series of informal coffee mornings to enable regular "get together's" with the idea to support each other. These informal gatherings led to a peer support service that would grow to become known as Sands. 

Janina Faulkner a member in the early days says "having received support from Sands 35 years ago when my first child Keith was stillborn, I experienced first hand the power and comfort of peer support. This support was very much appreciated through my two subsequent pregnancies. To be able to speak my son's name freely without being afraid to cause discomfort or embarrassment, to listen to how others coped through anniversaries, Christmas and strategies to cope with awkward situations was very valuable to me as I didn't have a lot of family support.

"Sands became my community through this time."

Two years later a similar group began a support group in South Australia. This group registered as a ‘Support Group’ and began providing a 24hr ‘telephone listening service’ alongside monthly support meetings.

In 1983 the decision to start Sands in Victoria was reached following a public meeting. This group was active quickly and achieved huge milestones in the early days including lobbying government to change legislation to include the registration of stillborn babies.

1983 also saw Judy Clarkson from Brisbane visit Perth not long after her daughter Janette was stillborn. She was staying with her sister-in-law who saw an ad for a Sands meeting in the local newspaper and encouraged her to attend. When Judy returned from Perth, she was determined to start something similar in Queensland. Another relative put her in contact with some key health professionals who were very helpful in getting Sands up and running in Queensland. 


Judy says “I don’t do things like that, I’m generally a reserved person. Janette must have been with me making it happen”. 

Sands had spread across the country thanks to these and many other dedicated men and women.

Their heartfelt contributions have led Sands to what it is today, a national organisation servicing bereaved parents right across Australia. We will continue our efforts to be the voice of bereaved parents and increase our impact on the lives of many bereaved parents, their families and friends and the wider community. We will also continue our work to improve bereavement care and raise awareness across the country of the heartbreaking impact of pregnancy and infant loss.

Our history is steeped in a peer support model of care. We believe our peer-to-peer support services are unique and different to any support offered by friends, family or other professional counselling or therapy services.

Volunteering is at the heart of everything we do at Sands. Whilst our volunteers come from all walks of life and hail from right across Australia, what our volunteers have in common is a passion for ensuring that no bereaved parent feels alone, isolated, or misunderstood in the grief they feel for their baby who died.

Our model of care is delivered by volunteer parent supporters who have experienced an early pregnancy loss, medically advised termination, stillbirth or newborn death.

Our volunteer parent supporters provide a safe space for bereaved parents to talk with those who are going through similar life challenges. It is through the lived experience of our volunteer parent supporters that we are able to provide real hope, understanding and empathy, rather than just sympathy.

One of our newest volunteers Michelle Birch helped coordinate the bake sale at our recent Walk to Remember in Melbourne.

“It feels great to be able to help bereaved parents in my own way. I can’t help on the support services, however I can support their events and raising funds to ensure bereaved parents have the support they need, when they need it.” says Michelle. 

Tricia Solly, from South Australia also feels a sense of fulfilment from volunteering at Sands. Tricia is a volunteer on our 24-hour support line who says “No one tells you when you’re pregnant, you might not bring that child home. People might be crying at the start of our call but when we finish and they say they feel better, I know my work is done,” she said. “I can chat to younger people and reassure them they will feel better. It’s providing that hope.” Tricia and her husband Steve lost their twin sons Andrew and Jarrod at 30 weeks.

Janina from Western Australia describes what volunteering at Sands means to her "To be trusted to "walk alongside" bereaved parents during their rawest of grief, to listen to their stories, to share with them each milestone in their journey through subsequent pregnancies and to watch as they rebuild the foundations of their life has been an absolute privilege.  I have supported parents through the initial shock and grief and seen them come to a point where they are able to then feel ready to support parents themselves.  This is the work of peer support at its very best."

In today’s busy world finding time to volunteer can be very difficult. Sands appreciates any time that people are able to spare and with this in mind we have opportunities, big and small, including some that can even be done in your pyjamas from home. We will help you find a meaningful way to support bereaved parents.

If you would like to become a volunteer at Sands, and continue the legacy of the incredible people who have come before us, please follow this link Volunteer 

we would love to hear from you!