Among the doctors, nurses, and other highly-trained experts dedicated to caring for our youngest patients, there is a group of caregivers who are skilled in calming fears and evoking laughter: child life specialists. You’ll see them decked in signature purple uniforms throughout Baystate Children’s Hospital, helping families navigate the challenges of having an ill or injured child.
“The bonds we develop with children and their families, in partnership with our colleagues across the hospital, can be incredibly strong,” Child Life Manager Jessie Hagerman says. “We all work as a team to help bring about the best patient experience possible.”
Compassion & Support
At Baystate, child life specialists provide support in the pediatric surgery center, the Sadowsky Family Pediatric Emergency Department, the outpatient Baystate Children’s Specialty Center, the pediatric procedure unit, and on inpatient units.
The work they perform varies day to day, and even hour to hour. They help interpret medical information in ways patients and families can understand, and sometimes bridge the gap between terrified families and expert medical staff.
“They are in the treatment room distracting a child and parent through a blood draw; next to a crib showing parents ways to calm their infant; or teaching a chronically ill child how to be compliant with their medications or frequent treatments,” says Hagerman.
Adapting from moment to moment, child life specialists may provide support to the family of a child who passed away, helping to make memories by molding hand prints or saving locks of hair. The following hour, they might be organizing a dance party, or supporting a nervous parent and child during the anesthesia process.
Kids are Kids
Child life specialists know “kids are kids” and creatively promote effective coping through play, preparation, education, and self-expression. That may mean decorating casts, crutches and patient rooms, and throwing parties for special occasions.
“They listen, encourage, teach, dance, sing, play, advocate, hug, distract, and help to provide activities to pass time while in the hospital,” says Hagerman
They also go to local schools, helping classmates of chronically ill patients learn about their condition and how to be supportive.
“There is nothing better than preparing a child or family member for a tough experience and then seeing them get through it successfully,” Hagerman says. “It’s an honor to be a part of their journey, and to witness the resiliency and bravery they show us daily.”
Pictured above: Child Life Specialist Rachel Delano (in purple) interacts with a child in the Sadowsky Family Pediatric Emergency Department at Baystate Children's Hospital. Also pictured are the child's parents and Danielle Hilliard, RN.