CCF’s Child Life Specialists (formerly known as Hospital Play Specialists) know well about children’s development. They translate the treatment process into a language that children can relate to. Through play, preparation, relaxation and self-expression activities, they help to enhance children’s ability to cope with the illnesses and treatments, and provide professional assessment and interventions accordingly.
- Enhance the child’s ability to cope with illness and treatment procedures
- Facilitate communication and cooperation between healthcare professionals, patients and patients’ families
- Alleviate unnecessary fears and anxieties
- Maintain normal growth and emotional well-being of the child
- Children with cancer who are hospitalised and their parents/care-givers
- Siblings of cancer children
- Help prepare children for medical procedures or treatments, and enhance their coping ability to eliminate unnecessary fears
- Provide necessary support during medical procedures and help children put coping strategies into practice
- Engage children in medical play; allow expression of feelings
- Coordinate activities that cater to the children’s psychosocial needs to promote healthy growth and development
- Provide support and assistance to families and siblings
- Work closely with the medical team to deliver services faithful to the family-centred care concept
- Haematology and Oncology Unit, Hong Kong Children's Hospital
- Department of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, United Christian Hospital
- Department of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Queen Mary Hospital
Sharing by Healthcare Team
Child Life service is now a mandatory component in all children’s hospitals, though the name may be different in different countries. It helps children going through the difficult treatment process. Hospital is a strange environment to all children, and they are fearful and anxious when being admitted into hospital. The treatment they received may cause pain and discomfort, such as pain coming from the fine needle for blood taking or a large bore size bone marrow biopsy tissue. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging requires the child to lie still in a large machine, alone, for at least half an hour. To relieve the stress and enhance the coping capability, children need help from specially trained personnel. We cannot totally eliminate the discomfort, but reducing the intensity or engaging children in playing mode will help them go through the treatment smoothly.
Child Life specialist, also called play therapist, has been trained to understand the psychology of children, their developmental pathways and the child life specialist is skilled to alleviate stress in children. Help from the specialist not only benefits the children but also the family and the health care team. When the parents are more confident about the treatment process and their kids are more cooperative during treatment, their acceptance of treatment will certainly improve. When the child is not struggling during some procedures, the procedure can be performed more smoothly and the quality of the end result will be much better. For instance, the MRI scan quality is improved when the child is cooperative in keeping still during the examination. The ward environment becomes more peaceful when there is no ‘fighting’ with or ‘screaming’ from the struggling child.
Therapy is not just giving medicine or performing an operation, it has to be holistic and takes into account all the needs of the sick children. We have witnessed this important service being implemented successfully in CCC for more than 10 years. A big Thank-you to all the child life specialists!
In my view, what’s good about Child Life service is that it prepares child patients better for their conditions… before the surgery, child life specialists render assistance to patients and their families, guiding parents to comfort their children and go to surgery room in their parents’ company, especially the younger ones who are not very expressive and need their parents’ present… child life specialists also serve as the bridge of trust between the medical staff, child patients and parents… thanks to the help of child life specialists, the medical staff can get the surgery equipment and anaesthetic agents ready at ease, leaving the emotional burden of child patients and their families to them. They have been working in-house in surgery rooms for years and now become a cardinal member there. As medical technology gets more advanced, the psychology of patients deserves more attention among the myriad (medical) disciplines.
When children are diagnosed with cancer they often have to face a lengthy and complicated treatment process. Invariably they are filled with dread and hostility toward the hospital. Many of them suffer from the ‘white-gown-phobia syndrome’, seeing medical personnel as their enemy. When they come face-to-face with some cold, sterile medical equipment, if the child life specialist can use games, toys and props to help explain the method and goals of treatment, they would feel less fearful and anxious. In the throes of growing up, ailing adolescents face even greater challenges. Through artistic endeavours such as music, photography and drawing, young patients can better manage their emotional needs and reduce their angst by engaging their creativity. The child life specialist also shows parents the best way to take part in the treatment process, providing both sick children and parents with a sense of security and encouraging their active cooperation with medical personnel. Hospital staff are often stretched to the limit. When the medical team witnesses the hysterics of a frightened child and the anxiety of the parents, they feel so helpless. All they can offer are a few words of comfort that won't help much. The sick child needs not only treatment but also emotional support and consolation. This is where child life specialists can be most effective, playing a critical role in comforting sick children, dealing with their negative emotions and providing psychological support.
Child life specialists are a great help to us, passing the time with children through games and role-playing activities, and informing them of the processes to come. As a mother myself, if my child was to undergo surgery, I would appreciate their assistance in calming them down and mitigating their fearful memory of surgery in the future.
It is always difficult to ask child patients to cooperate. In the past we tried to ‘bribe’ them with sweets, chocolate, toys, cartoon stickers and so on… however, as the years go by, the effect of these incentives is diminishing. In order to get our job done we try hard for hours to soothe or reason with the child, but still without success in easing the anxiety of the patient. Sometimes it would take hours to finish a twenty-minute job. Eventually we have to rely on the last resort – sedation.
And here comes the child life specialist, who spends time with the patient in the ward to build trust and good relations with the child. Also she would explain the working procedures beforehand. When the child comes to our unit, he or she already knows what is going to happen and would be eager to cooperate. Of course, there are occasions when some difficult children would refuse to cooperate at all. However, more and more children when accompanied by the child life specialist are less anxious and willing to cooperate with us. Thank goodness for the child life specialist! Not only do they help us to accomplish our job, they also reduce the need for us to sedate our pediatric patients.
A child life specialist is very helpful to child patients receiving radiation treatment. They accompany children on visits to the radiation department, explaining the steps involved. Sometimes we would make a video or mock-up equipment together to encourage trust by the child in the radiation process. With the work of the child life specialist, there are far fewer occasions requiring the use of sedatives on the sick child.
The child life specialist helps to prepare the child patient psychologically for the treatment procedure, to make sure that the child is relaxed about it. The specialist also provides support during treatment, to make it more efficient and smoother. The child life specialist plays a critically important role.
The child life specialist really makes a difference in lessening some of the fears and anxieties of the child. Especially during treatment, the specialist provides the necessary distraction so the procedure can be completed smoothly without the child even noticing.