Child Life Series: Ohio University Program a Huge Success

By Danielle Surprenant

The Child Life Program being run by Connect-123 at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, reached new heights a the end of 2009 when a group of 12 volunteers from Ohio University provided their much needed services to patients and their families at the hospital during their winter vacation.

Having a large number Child Life students working in the hospital over this period opened up the possibility of extending Child Life services beyond the burns ward, the site of our original pilot study. Part of their work involved assessing the wards where Child Life services would be most beneficial as well as leaving behind materials that would benefit their allocated wards or the greater hospital on a more long-term basis. In addition to all their hard work at the Red Cross, the Ohio group also contributed their time and skills to a pediatric HIV clinic and a pediatric convalescent home, engaging children in activities from singing and crafts to medical play.

The volunteers were also fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to visit a clinic in the township of Khayelitsha where they were able to experience a community healthcare setting, greatly enriching their understanding of the South African healthcare system – several of the volunteers even witnessed babies being born during their visit!

During their stay, the high-energy group also managed to squeeze in a safari, bungee jumping, a soccer tournament, a trip to the beautiful Cape Point, an African-style dinner, Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations and plenty of trips to the beach!

A clear message rang through the group’s final presentation to the Red Cross medical staff at the end of their stay – Child Life services significantly improve the quality of care and support provided to patients and their families. Based on the students’ work, the decision was taken to extend permanent services to the oncology wards with continued expansion planned throughout the hospital’s in and outpatient wards and operating theaters as the program grows and develops. With the Cape Town Child Life program celebrating its first birthday in February, the program is looking forward to the meeting new challenges that lie ahead for 2010, not to mention welcoming plenty more passionate and energetic volunteers to Cape Town.

Before they left we asked the group what advice they would give to future volunteers – here is what some of them had to say:

“Keep an open mind about the Child Life lens and to do the best at what we have learned with the resources we are given. It’s about the creativity and the ability to adapt to new settings. That little things make a big difference”.

“I loved having the close one-on-one involvement with the patients. In the States this would not be possible as a student in a practicum. This helped me to gain confidence. Take advantage of every single day here. The time flies by. Don’t be afraid to jump in, feet first. Many sisters and doctors are very accepting and helpful.”

“Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. It may be frustrating and scary at first but it’s well worth it.”

Danielle Surprenant, a qualified and experienced Child Life specialist, served as Connect-123’s Child Life Program Director at Red Cross Children’s Hospital in 2010. She has since returned to the US, where she works at an Early Intervention Center in Massachusetts.

Danielle Surprenant

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