The Child-Life Team: Overcoming Challenges During COVID

Tija Praulins wearing a mask.

Even during the best of circumstances, an extended stay at McMaster Children’s Hospital can be a stressful experience for young patients and their families. During a worldwide pandemic, the experience can be even more overwhelming.

The Child Life team at the Hospital, which provides psychosocial support and coping strategies to children and their families to help them navigate their medical journey, is facing a unique set of challenges in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. This has required them to pivot and adapt quickly as the situation evolves.

“For everyone’s safety, the number of people who can visit patients has been limited,” explains Tija Praulins, a Certified Child Life Specialist. “This is emotionally challenging for the patient, who normally relies on the support system of loved ones who visit. It’s also challenging for siblings, extended family members and friends who are unable to be at the bedside.”

Virtual care

To help keep patients and their loved ones connected during such uncertain times, the Child Life Team is embracing virtual-communication technology more than ever.

“Generous funding from McMaster Children’s Hospital Foundation has enabled us to purchase tablets and laptops that allow patients to communicate virtually with loved ones outside of the Hospital,” says Tija. “Patients aren’t able to leave their rooms, so this brings the world to them.”

“We realize that our work is more important now than ever.”

Public areas in the inpatient unit, like the playroom and teen lounge, are closed to prevent spread of the virus. As a result, special programming for patients has gone completely virtual.

“Patients can log in and participate in fun activities like arts and crafts, bingo and trivia games. This also allows them to interact with other patients in the unit virtually. And although our volunteers cannot visit the Hospital at this time, they can help us run our special programs from the safety of their homes.”

Inspired every day

With volunteers unable to be on site, Child Life Specialists are doing some of the things that are usually undertaken by these dedicated individuals. This includes providing bedside support for parents, cleaning toys for infection control and entertaining patients when a pleasant diversion is needed during care.

You won’t hear Tija or her Child Life colleagues complaining, though.

“We realize that our work is more important now than ever,” she says. “I’m inspired every day by the resilience of patients and families to adapt during challenging times, and the resilience of my colleagues as we work together to offer the best possible care no matter what the circumstances.”