March is Child Life Month, and we’ve teamed up with our partners at Levine Children’s Hospital to highlight their truly AMAZING team of child life specialists. If your child (or a child that you know) has spent any time at Levine Children’s Hospital, you know what an incredible role child life specialists play in the lives of patients and their families, AND what a huge resource they are for the hospital. Each child life specialist is a friend, a safe person and someone who can help create lasting happy memories to help make the hospital not so scary. A huge thank you to Heather Silva, CCLS, and Caitlin Parker, CCLS, who took the time to share their thoughts on their very own team. We’ve broken this up into two parts – Heather’s thoughts and Caitlin’s thoughts. Thanks to you both!! Click here for even more information on the child life specialist team at LCH.
The Child Life Department at Levine Children’s Hospital provides services for children and their families both in and out of the hospital. Our job is to decrease the stress and anxiety associated with the medical setting and procedures that patients might need. Levine Children’s Hospital has 36 members of the Child Life Department, including child life specialists and assistants, hospital school teachers, a music therapist and an art coordinator.
We promote effective coping through preparation, education, play and self-expression activities. One of our main roles is to encourage understanding of medical procedures, surgeries and tests. We have teaching dolls and other medical equipment that allow the children to master their experiences through play. We advocate for the families to take an active role in their child’s care. Siblings are such an important part of the family unit, and we offer teachings, activities and other support groups specifically for them, as well as the patient. Because children learn through play, Levine Children’s Hospital has four playrooms that offer therapeutic and recreational play activities to help ease a child’s fear and anxiety associated with being in the hospital.
Here are some of the amazing comments I have received about the Child Life Department:
From a parent: They make a very frightening situation easier with their caring support! My child was so scared to be in the hospital, and after meeting the Child Life team he asked me if he could have his birthday party at the hospital. Then, he cried when it was time to leave and go home.
From a parent: My newborn son was in the hospital for a few weeks. Due to me constantly being at the hospital I was unable to spend time with my 6 year old at home. In meeting with the child life specialist I shared some of my concerns for being away from my daughter. My child was petrified to come visit her brother in the hospital and was waking up screaming in the middle of the night. After I talked to the Child Life Specialist, I decided to bring my 6 year old up to the hospital to meet with the Child Life team. When we arrived at the hospital the Child Life Specialist met us in the lobby with a doctor bag, art supplies and a tablet. Because of the child life specialist’s creativity, my daughter was able to draw pictures to hang in her brother’s room. After bonding with my child, the child life specialist then showed her an tablet with multiple pictures of the room her brother was in as well as a picture of her brother. They discussed the different monitors as well as the breathing tube. We talked for a while and then the Child Life Specialist took her upstairs to meet her brother for the first time. She was able to touch and hold her brother’s hand as well as hang the pictures on the wall she had drawn for him downstairs. Because of this invaluable service my child is now sleeping through the night and absolutely loves coming to the hospital.
At Levine Children’s Hospital, our Child Life Department covers a great deal of needs. We work with you and your child to determine the educational and psychosocial needs that should be met and can recommend how to approach the procedure or surgery best. It is important to take into account the developmental level of your child as to how much information you share and how it should be provided. We love to work alongside our families as they discover their needs and always remember, you know your child best and you are their greatest advocate!
There are playrooms on each floor. Provided that your child does not have any limitations, they will be able to visit those spaces when they are open. Activities can also be brought to the rooms. There are books, puzzles, board games, coloring, play dough, infant seats, mobiles, toddler toys, bubbles, crafts, movies, and other games. It is good to bring items from home that bring your child comfort, such as their own pillow, blanket or favorite toy.
I work with the pre-op, recovery, observation, endoscopy, and infusion patients. I get to work at 6 a.m. and prepare patients to go back for surgery. I assess the patients and families, alongside my team, to come up with a plan for their care. This could involve preparing them for going to sleep with a mask or getting an IV, waking up with stitches or casts, picking out what they want to eat when they are done, teaching siblings about our process, or even singing along to Disney movies and blowing bubbles until they are more comfortable with our team. I can go back with patients to surgery and comfort them until they fall asleep, and I can check in with them in recovery to see how they are doing once their parents are back with them. I also meet our pre-op clinic patients and families throughout the day that are discussing an upcoming procedure. This is a time to prepare for the day ahead through teaching, touring, and planning expectations for their procedure.
As part of my job I cover the infusion room. These patients come on a regular basis to receive IV medications for many different reasons. One of these patients is a boy with autism. We have been working on a process for him to have his IV started that is less anxiety inducing each time. He loves to have a routine, and we created one for his infusions. After many weeks of fear, he came in one day and completed his routine all by himself and his IV was placed without any stress. He was so proud that he was able to manage his fear and cope positively for the first time on his own. I am a huge advocate for encouraging independent coping. I don’t want to be a crutch for a family, but rather a facilitator. There is nothing more exciting than watching our patients overcome their situation and be filled with such pride!
About Heather Silva, CCLS, Child Life Manager, Levine Children’s Hospital
Heather received her undergraduate degree at East Carolina University, then completed a Child Life Internship at Miami Children’s Hospital. After her internship she was employed as a Senior Child Life Specialist. In 2002 she became a Carolinas HealthCare System/Levine Children’s Hospital Child Life Specialist on the Infant/Toddler Unit. In 2003, she implemented the Child Life program in the Emergency Department, and in 2010, Heather became manager of the Child Life Department.
About Caitlin Parker, CCLS, Certified Child Life Specialist, Pre-Op/Day Hospital/PACU, Child Life Department, Levine Children’s Hospital
Caitlin received her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She then completed an internship at Vidant Medical Center and was certified the next spring. She was first hired as a PRN Certified Child Life Specialist at Carolinas HealthCare System/Levine Children’s Hospital in the summer of 2011 and has since become full time. She’s worked in the emergency department, and has also helped create a program in rehab. Caitlin is now working in inpatient surgical services.