A hospital is a very “adult world,” and it can be a scary place, especially for kids, according to Laura Parcels, Director of Child Life Services at Hurley Medical Center. And Hurley has a program designed to help kids cope with being in a hospital setting. The Child Life program can ease their fears and put a dose of “normal” back into a young life disrupted by an illness, injury or disability.
Hurley has five full-time Certified Child Life Specialists on staff and is the only area hospital that offers this service. According to the director, these trained professionals work with Hurley doctors, nurses, social workers and others to help kids and their families manage the stress and uncertainty that comes with being in a hospital environment. “They make it better for your child,” she says.
A Child Life Specialist helps pediatric patients cope through play, self-expression activities and age-appropriate medical preparation and education. As an example, when a child needs an IV, they are often terrified. “We call it a poke, not a needle or a shot,” Parcels explains. “We show kids what equipment will be used and then give them a doll or stuffed animal for them to practice giving an IV. We bring it down to a level that a child can understand.”
They also stay with the child during the procedure and help them get through it. “We keep them calm so the nurse or the doctor can concentrate on the medical issue. We focus on the child,” she adds.
“Child Life is an extra layer of support not only for families, but for the medical staff, as well. We are here because Hurley wants what’s best for kids.”
Laura Parcels, Director
The director, also a Certified Child Life Specialist, was working with a little guy who had been diagnosed with leukemia and was being treated at Hurley’s Pediatric Oncology Department. Her job was to ease his fears and help him learn about the treatment he would receive. “I kept talking and talking to him,” she remembers, “and, he wouldn’t even look at me or speak to me!” So, she said to him, “You know what? I promise you, while you’re here, I’m going to be your best friend.” He looked at her and replied, “No, you’re not!”
But they did become friends, and Parcels helped the boy through a very difficult situation in his young life. Years later, he is now a young man living in another state. “He still keeps in touch with me,” she laughs. “At first, we are strangers to them. They come to Hurley scared and traumatized, but we help them get through it.”
Hurley’s Child Life program has evolved over the years, Parcel reports. It has been around for about 40 years and started with “play ladies” who would talk to pediatric patients and help them feel more comfortable. It has grown to become a degreed program that includes rigorous training and testing. “You can get a degree in Child Life now, but not all colleges offer it,” she reports. Students must also complete an internship and clinicals before taking the certification exam. “We have evolved from neighborhood play ladies to trained professionals.”
The Child Life program has been very successful and keeps five staff members very busy. “We have some of the most hardworking and dedicated staff members!” Parcels exclaims, adding that the specialists work with youth from infancy to age 21 and a wide range of cultures, religions and maturity levels. “We have to be fast on our feet.” They also work with adults who are developmentally delayed.
Child Life Specialists also provide bereavement support which Parcels says is, by far, one of the most important services they offer, especially to the siblings and parents of a child who has passed away. “We have the best pediatricians, nurses and doctors,” she says. “They are so amazing. They go far above and beyond what their jobs are. They treat the kids like family. Child Life is an extra layer of support not only for families, but for the medical staff, as well. We are here because Hurley wants what’s best for kids.”
Parcels has worked at Hurley for ten years and loves her job. A Flint native, she attended school in the Beecher District and graduated from Mott Community College and U of M-Flint, and describes herself as a Flint girl through-and-through. That’s why her job is so important to her – she helps kids in her own community. “I want people to understand that there are so many wonderful layers of care at Hurley. We are just one layer. We love these kids and we love this community.”
The Child Life program is funded through The Children’s Miracle Network and the Hurley Foundation, as well as very generous corporate and private donors, says Parcels. “The people in this area are the most compassionate people who have ever existed. Despite everything that has happened in Flint, people go out of their way to take care of Hurley kids.”
If you are interested in supporting Hurley Child Life Services, you can call 810.262.9577 or donate online.
Hurley Child Life Specialists:
- Walk children through medical procedures so they know what to expect.
- Communicate in terms kids can understand.
- Provide coping strategies to help reduce anxiety and promote cooperation with the healthcare team.
- Provide support and distraction during medical procedures.
- Offer opportunities for play and expressive activities such as art and music therapy to encourage normal development and a sense of fun in spite of challenging circumstances.
- Promote family-centered care by providing information, advocacy and support to families of pediatric patients.
- Child Life Specialists help kids in Pediatrics, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), Pediatric Emergency Department, Gastroenterology, Pediatric Oncology, Surgery, Radiology and in the Burn Unit.
To find out if Child Life Services are available for your child’s visit to Hurley, call 810.262.9577
Photos Provided by Hurley