Child Life Series: Program Assists with School Re-entry

By Danielle Surprenant

The Child Life program has recently expanded out of the hospital and into the community by offering a school re-entry program to a 7 year-old girl.

Britney* was admitted to the burn unit at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, after sustaining a significant flame injury to her abdomen, lower arms, and upper legs from match play. Since Britney was the second child in her school to sustain an injury from matches, Child Life Program director, Danielle recognized a need for fire prevention and safety.

Despite the fact that this was the first of its kind for Britney’s school, the staff  were incredibly receptive and willing to accommodate Danielle’s presentation which would coincide with Britney’s first day back. After nearly two months of hospitalization and recovery, the child life team received word that Britney would be returning to school and prepared for the long and rainy drive to a town just outside of Hermanus. Upon arrival, the team was warmly welcomed by the school staff and students. A PowerPoint presentation was shown to 90 first, second and third graders showing photos of the hospital wards, rooms, and staff.

The aim of this program, and most school re-entry programs, is to educate both staff and students on the hospitalization process. The idea is that, provided with this knowledge, the staff and students will have a firm understanding of the child’s injury or illness thus alleviating the child from an influx of questions and preventing disaffection because of their differences.

The second half of the presentation focused on fire safety. The team discussed with the children items found in a typical home that, while useful, can be harmful and should be used by adults only (i.e. matches!). The children were also instructed on what to do in case of a fire. Stop, drop and roll, fire escape routes and information on who firefighters are and what they do was also included in this portion of the presentation.

Not only were the children well behaved and respectful, they asked some insightful questions. After being instructed to (in the event of a fire) leave the house immediately, taking nothing with you, and phoning for the fire department, one girl asked, “How do you call the fire department if you left your cell phone inside?!” A demonstration of technology’s influence on children…

* Not the patient’s real name. Photos of children in this article feature Connect-123 child life volunteers with patients at Red Cross Children’s Hospital whose families have given permission for these images to be used.

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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