Kelly has worked part-time at Rennie Grove since November 2022, reporting into the charity’s Play Specialist Karen. Together, they are the ‘play team’ – helping children and their families affected by life-limiting illness have fun and make memories when every moment matters.
Kelly explains: “There are several strands to what we do, but the main focus is play sessions for children on the charity’s Children’s Hospice at home team. I’ll either visit families at home or welcome them into Grove House for a play session.” The team might also run group play sessions for children at Grove House, if children would benefit from the additional peer interaction group sessions can offer.
The team has a big playroom at Grove House with a large cupboard full of toys, including arts, crafts and messy play, adapted and sensory toys, gaming consoles as well as more traditional board and card games. Kelly will select toys according to a child’s needs and preference, which she’ll have noted during an initial visit, usually alongside a children’s nurse.
“I try to visit two children every day. If children are younger than school age, or too unwell to attend school, I’ll aim to visit them at home every week. For children in full-time education, I’ll arrange visits during school holidays. And if siblings are at home during a visit, I’ll involve them in play too,” says Kelly.
Play sessions vary according to each child’s needs and what they like. “Arts, crafts and messy play is popular,” says Kelly, “as are our sensory stories, told using lights, sounds and textures.
If a mum or dad is bringing their child into Grove House for a play session, we’ll sometimes arrange for the parent to have a complementary therapy session at the same time with our complementary Therapist.”
Due to the changing needs of the children on the caseload, the team only plans two weeks ahead. “We meet with the Children’s Nurses and Healthcare Assistants every other week,” explains Kelly. “And we’ll always call each family prior to a visit, because things can change suddenly.” If a child can’t make a planned play session, the team rings round the families they know have children at home, to see if they would like the slot. “We can usually find someone keen to take advantage of a last-minute session,” says Kelly.
“I’ll always check a child’s notes before a visit. Parents don’t want to be asked the same questions all over again. If I see a change in a child from one visit to a next, or if parents have any healthcare concerns, I can encourage them to call their Children’s Nurse or ask the nurse to ring them. I also visit and liaise with other healthcare professionals involved in the children’s care, such as speech and language therapists, so that support is joined up and we can build that all-important rapport with the children.”
Part of the play team’s role is showing parents new ideas for play/activities with their children.
“When a child has a disability, their play may look very different to that of another child,” says Kelly. “And when a child has been in hospital for a long time, or their condition has changed so they can no longer do what they used to, parents might worry about the best way to play. We often have set ideas of what ‘play’ should look like. But it doesn’t need to be racing cars around obstacles or dressing dolls. It can be as simple as helping a child play with lights on a ceiling. Or doing hand-over-hand work with a child, guiding them to use a paintbrush for example.
“Sometimes the older children we visit rediscover the joy of board games. It’s lovely to see families – who’d assumed their children only wanted to play on consoles – begin to build up their own board game collections after we introduce a few ideas.”
Memory making is also a big part of the play team’s work with the families they support. “Children are given a scrap book to keep all their art work in. We can do build-a-bear workshops and we’re just starting to do clay hand and foot castings with children and their families,” explains Kelly.
In addition to play sessions with child patients, the play team host monthly sibling group sessions at Grove House on a Saturday. “These sessions are for brothers and sisters of children we’re currently caring for – and for bereaved siblings of children we’ve previously cared for. We also invite children of our adult patients too,” explains Kelly.
The team also welcome external organisations into Grove House during school holidays to run extra sessions for children and their siblings, such as music groups and dance classes. “We invite parents to attend these too, so they can build a social network of support while their children play.”