March is National Child Life Month! We sat down with the Cardiac Center’s Child Life team for an interview.
What is the primary patient population you serve?
L-R: Child Life Specialists Eden Van Alstine, Erin Prendergast, Ally McLaughlin, Katie Price
As a team, we work with a variety of patients across the Cardiac Center. We help patients that come to our hospital who are born with or who have acquired a problem with their heart.
What does a typical day on your unit look like?
We wish we could explain a “typical” day, but we don’t think we have one! We, as child life, wear many different hats. We love how our work looks different every single day. One morning we might be making glitter slime with some pre-teens in the playroom, and that same afternoon we might be helping a family on the CICU make memories with their child who can’t be held due to illness. We also help to organize and distribute donations from generous families. We work with a variety of ages (age 0-25), which allows therapeutic interventions to be adapted based on the individualized, developmental level of each child. We collaborate with all members of the medical and interdisciplinary team to help patients reach treatment goals and cope positively.
What is your favorite part of your job/being a child life specialist/CAC?
Shirelle Keys, Child Activity Coordinator
The nature of the Cardiac Center allows us to be a consistent member of a patient’s care team. We often start by providing sensory-based education during a patient’s initial pre-surgical visit, followed by emotional support during anesthesia induction on the day of surgery, coping strategies during invasive procedures, therapeutic activities intended for patients to process their hospitalization, and normalization through play/activities during their recovery. We really enjoy the daily challenge of helping kids and families cope, through therapeutic interventions, with all aspects of a child’s hospitalization and chronic illness. We also get to help kids feel like they are conquering their illness, which is really special.
What kinds of activities do you plan for the patients?
Play is the language of children. We use play as a modality for understanding how a patient is understanding and coping with their hospitalization. Medical play helps us understand if a patient knows how medical equipment is used and what misconceptions they may have about their illness and treatment. Therapeutic games like “question Jenga” give children a chance to express their feelings in a familiar, safe setting. We plan these types of activities to build rapport, normalize the hospital environment, and assess psychosocial needs.
What would you want your families/patients to know about your job?
Child Life is certainly something that looks like a lot of fun on the surface as we’re delivering toys and using glitter wands, but there are many aspects to consider. We work hard to meet the individualized needs of every child. We are providing toys carefully chosen to support a patient’s normal growth and development while they remain bound to their room. We are honored to witness the bravery and courage displayed by every patient, parent and sibling who gives us “work” to do, because if our work can make their daily burden a little less heavy, then we consider that a job well done!