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Child Life Specialist at Hurley Medical Center in Flint

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Joining us is Lori Newton, Director of Child Life Services at Hurley Medical Center, the only service of it's kind at a Genesee County Medical Center.  Lori will be discussing the role Child Life Services plays and the importance of preparation, including coping and distraction techniques, to minimize the fear and anxiety children may feel about a procedure, treatment or hospital stay.


0:00 Ilene Cantor

This Think Healthy, Think Hurley interview was brought to you by Hurley Medical Center, the region's premiere public teaching hospital in Flint, Michigan. This Blog TalkRadio is another way Hurley is educating the greater Genesee County Community about health and wellness. For more than a century, Hurley has been providing the most comprehensive clinical and compassionate care for patients and their families. I am your host Ilene Cantor, and today's topic is of Hurley's Child Life Services. The only staff of its kind in the Genesee County Hospital. Joining us now is Lori Newton, Director of Hurley Child Life. Thank you for joining us today.

0:33 Lori Newton

Thank you.

0:34 Ilene Cantor

Tell us Lori, what is Child Life Services?

0:38 Lori Newton

Well, Child Life Services is a wonderful program here at Hurley. We provide emotional support to children, who are getting ready for medical test or any kind of surgical procedure. We explain to the child and their family what is going to happen. So they know what to expect. We can teach them some coping techniques to help reduce the stress and offer some positive ideas, and help them or distract them during any of those types of invasive procedures. We further can help make a child hospital stay more homelike -- so that is a tough thing to be away from home.

1:22 Ilene Cantor

Now, oftentimes children come in for extended periods of time due to cancer and other life-threatening illnesses and diseases, tell us a little bit if you can, the type of distraction techniques and play therapies that are implemented

1:36 Lori Newton

Well, you know, because children process information from the world around them, so much differently than adults. They really, really do have distinct needs for managing the effects of stress and trauma, and without the assistance of Child Life or other professionals, who understand their unique perspective, they can experience things such as fear, and shame, and confusion. All of which, we can help alleviate through just a little preparation. We do that through just techniques of play that affect their well-being. Some of those are, of course, preparing them ahead of time. Just any kind of preparation that you can do ahead of time is helpful. And of course, depending on the child's age and developmental level, we use a huge variety of techniques. Sometimes, it is so simple that it was just an infant is just to find something bright and shiny, and spinning and noisy that will distract their attention for something that needs to be done. All of that can seem like a simple thing, but it makes the whole thing go easier for the child. Older kids of course require more. They want to understand what is going to happen to them. They want to know what it is going to feel like. How it's going to be? What's going to happen first? You know, how will it conclude? They have different needs. We try to meet the needs of all of our patients.

3:07 Ilene Cantor

In some cases Lori, do you show the children in the operating room and sometimes take them on mini tours before procedures take place? Does that happen?

3:15 Lori Newton

Yes. Absolutely. We think that preparation is vital and you can obtain the services by asking your surgeon ahead of time right there in the local surgeons' offices or -- and your child can receive tours as an out-patient before the surgery occurs. So that will give you a lot of good information to share with your child at home. Gives you some activities to practice with them. So that the day of surgery is an event. Not something to be feared and dreaded. So the family can be prepared ahead of time and then they can come away from surgery day with a whole different experience, if they prepare ahead of time and they can do that by calling Child Life Services and scheduling that.

4:11 Ilene Cantor

Are there questions that some kids will ask from time to time? Or common from parents regarding Child Life and your staff, and the needs that are provided?

4:21 Lori Newton

Well, common questions that children always asked are, will it hurt and when can I eat? Those are two big questions that they always have. In regards to questions that parents have, I guess, parents have those questions just that are somewhat universal to all of us and they want to know that their child is going to receive good care and they want to know that the team is going to be cognizant of their special needs and their special fears and all of that, and a good assessment done by a Child Life specialist can help the whole care team. Know, if the child is fearful of something or if they have special needs. That all of that can go easier for a family with the help of Child Life.

5:12 Ilene Cantor

And tell me a little bit about how large your staff is and also if a child wants to watch a movie in their room, can that be implemented?

5:22 Lori Newton

Sure. We have presently seven people on our team. Their job -- really, the thing that they have, all of them have in common, is that they all really have a good solid background in child growth and development. And that the whole premise, the whole reason for being here is to promote effective coping. We use play, we use preparation, education, and self-expression activities. All of these things to provide good emotional support for that child and their families, just to help with the whole challenging experience to make it the optimum experience that we can. Yes, we have different things here on the unit if they are an in-patient that can help with that. We have a big variety of movies and other types of activities, where they can relax or just to have something interactive. We have video games and that kind of thing too. So, our goal is to try to make some of the time here as normal to what they would -- is normal as possible with they would be doing at home and that is also on our list of trying to help the child cope is to make it as normal as possible.

6:47 Ilene Cantor

And tell me the importance of bringing something to the hospital from home for a child like a stuffed animal or favorite blanket or pillow from home, and how the importance of family supported part of this process. Isn't it important?

7:02 Lori Newton

Family support of course is huge. You know, today our kids can confront a wide variety of some pre-stressful and potentially traumatic events that can overwhelm their natural -- you know, kids have a natural ability to cope and deal, but sometimes traumatic events overwhelmed them. These typicals are unexpected experiences such as chronic illnesses, the hospitalization, they may even go through the experience of death of a loved one, sometimes to see aftermath or some violent acts or natural disasters, or also times where they are overwhelmed. We know that children are particularly vulnerable and that their parents may feel unsure of the ability to help those children to successfully understand and manage those experiences. We are often asked by family to help them through this, to help give them support through this, and those, in that area of support of helping a family get through something tough, we do. We talked about things that can make life more normal, such as a stuffed animal from home or a blanket or a pillow or something. Almost every child has something that brings them comfort, and of course, comfort is a huge part of going through a traumatic event.

8:31 Ilene Cantor

Any final parting words of advice for parents who have a child about to embark on this journey or about to be admitted for surgery or procedure or difficult challenging time. Any parting advice? So that parents should know before they are admitted?

8:46 Lori Newton

Yes. I think so. I would like to share this. The American Academy of Pediatrics really feels like Child Life is important. In fact, they see us as an essential component of quality care, and as such, Child Life Services have become a standard at Hurley. We worked really hard to help ease the child's fear and anxiety. So, it seems to me that these good services are in place and that it would be great if families knew about them and embrace them and called for the services because it make a world of difference in a child's experience. So I guess, I would share that with parents that it is really worth the time to help their child through this. These different healthcare experiences. A little bit goes a long way. A little bit of explanation, a little bit of play and preparation can really help make it a very positive thing for a child.

9:47 Ilene Cantor

That is wonderful. I really appreciate the time you are taking. Lori Newton, Director of Hurley's Child Life. This Think Healthy, Think Hurley interview was brought to you by Hurley Medical Center. If you would like to find a Hurley physician, call 888-611-4HMC.