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Celebrating the Child Life Program at Kentucky Children's Hospital

March 31, 2021 / in Children, Our people / by UK HealthCare

March is Child Life Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of our Child Life Specialists and the care, instruction and fun that they bring to our patients and their families. 

We recently spoke with Dr. Katelyn Yackey, a pediatric emergency physician, as well as Certified Child Life Specialists Emily Bollinger and Caleigh Lowing, about the incredible service our Child Life Program provides, helping children continue their normal growth and development while easing the stress families may experience during a hospital stay.

Watch the full video at the end of the blog.

What role does the Child Life Program play in caring for children?

Dr. Katelyn Yackey – “When your child needs to come to the ER for an illness or an injury, the unique thing about the University of Kentucky ER is that we have a separate dedicated pediatric ER that's staffed by pediatric emergency medicine physicians, as well as pediatric-specific nursing, who really specialize in the care of children, and it's separate from the care of adults. 

We know that when you bring your child to the ER, it can be a scary experience, and there's a lot happening, and sometimes it's a little bit chaotic. In our pediatric ER, we have a team of specialists called Child Life. They work alongside the pediatric physicians and the pediatric nurses to help smooth and ease that visit so that families and patients can feel a lot more comfortable as we're evaluating them in the ER.”

Emily Bollinger, Child Life Specialist – “Nobody wakes up planning to go to the emergency room that day. So it's already something that wasn't planned for, that they weren't prepared for. Depending on the age of the child, their developmental level, their understanding, the medical treatment that's necessary, how uncomfortable that is, what this child's experience is being to hospitals or not before, who's with them to support them. So all of these things can interfere with a child's ability to cope with being in the hospital, having potentially uncomfortable things happening – a lot of strangers with name tags and masks currently coming at you. 

Our job is to help them understand what's happening, understand why it's happening, and support the resources that they have and help them get through this experience.”

What are some of the unique ways the Child Life Team helps children prepare for a procedure or hospital visit?

Caleigh Lowing, Child Life Specialist – “If a kid were to come in and need stitches, I have a preparation kit that has different medical supplies with real tools that the doctors use throughout the procedure to help them understand and become familiar with the different things and make it so it's not as scary for them. I let the kids touch and play with it. They can tie the string with the tools that I'm providing them with. Then we come up with a coping plan to help them be able to succeed in that procedure and be able to stay as still as they can and just feel comfort and not as scared during that time.”

Dr. Yackey – “One of the rooms in our pediatric ER is what we call a sensory room. It was developed specifically for children that have unique developmental needs – kids that have conditions such as autism. It's a really nice room in the sense that it provides entertainment and some distraction when necessary for kids as they navigate the sometimes chaotic environment of the ER.”

Emily Bollinger – “The lighting itself is softer. There aren't fluorescent lights glaring down at the children. There are LED strands coming down. Those are really interesting to look at. It can also be a really soothing tactile thing for a lot of kids to be able to string them repeatedly. There's also some weight to those, so kids that like a little bit of pressure can drape those around themselves. 

There's a bubble tube that's moving, and they're actually controlled so the child can make the bubbles go higher or lower. It gives control over an environment that can otherwise make a child feel very vulnerable.”

Caleigh Lowing – “If a kid needs any sort of imaging, such as an MRI or a CT scan or anything like that, we have different apps and toys to help them see what it's going to look like and hear the different sounds. I have an app on an iPad that I carry around that has the noises that the MRI will make so they can hear it beforehand. It can be loud and scary, so I like letting them hear it beforehand and show them pictures of the camera. I have a little toy that is a mini version of a CT scan, where they can put a doll on top of it and push the bed in and out of the camera so they can understand that it's not going to touch them or hurt them, and they will have a better understanding of what it's going to be like.”

How does the Child Life Team help families cope with a hospital stay?

Dr. Yackey – “In the pediatric ER and as a pediatrician, we know that our patients are only one component of what we do. Of course, they're our primary focus. We want to make sure that they're healthy and that they're safe. But really we recognize that it's the families that are also who we treat. Taking care of moms, dads and siblings really is something that we want to focus on and make sure that we're treating the whole family unit any time a child comes in and needs our help.” 

Caleigh Lowing – “Even if it's something that may seem small, it can be the biggest stressor in their life at that time. We are often an open, listening ear for the parents as they process what they're going through. We help them understand. There's so many times that even parents don't know what's happening during procedures. So not only are we helping the kid understand what's happening, but we're also helping the parent and siblings understand everything as well.”

Emily Bollinger – “For Child Life specialists, a lot of the kids are not the most comfortable expressing themselves verbally or through medical jargon in particular. So when there's a Child Life specialist explaining to the child what's about to happen, what it's going to feel like, how long it will last, what their job is in it, and what each other person is doing, then the medical professionals can focus 100% on their medical tasks and know that that child's getting everything that they need. And they can then do their piece of it at a really high skillful level because a Child Life specialist has these other components covered.”

Dr. Yackey – “Every child is different. Every family is different. I understand that coming to the ER can be a bit scary. Fortunately, I work at a place where we have Child Life. And our Child Life Team specialize in helping kids cope and understand and deal with procedures as they come. They really help my job to be a lot easier in the sense that they explain things to children in a child-like way and to families in a way that limits the use of medical terms and helps them just really know why we're doing what we're doing and making it easier for us to do that.”


Watch our full interview.


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