Organised by the National Association of Health Play Specialists (NAHPS), Play in Hospital Week takes place this week. It promotes awareness of the emotional needs of children and young people in hospital and community settings, while advocating the inclusion of therapeutic play interventions in a child’s daily care plan.
At the Richard Desmond Children’s Eye Centre, our play specialists provide children and young people with the means to cope and develop themselves through fun and familiar activities, helping to reduce anxiety, fear and uncertainty, and therefore support their recovery.
Edna Owusu is a play specialist and has worked at Moorfields for seven and a half years. Over that time, she has befriended children of all backgrounds and ages. To celebrate Play in Hospital Week, Edna shares some insights.
Could you describe what a play specialist does in a couple of sentences?
I’ll probably need more than a couple of sentences! People think it’s just play, but it’s actually play that distracts the child’s mind from certain procedures they are going through. We use it as a form of bonding, so whenever they come to Moorfields, they recognise a friendly face and someone who always has fun with them. In return, if the children are worried about anything they can call us. We are their friends and are essentially advocates for the children. If we can create a distraction, the children are focused on that and are less evasive of the procedure.
What are the children mostly worried about?
Pain and uncertainty, particularly around eye drops and needles. We can talk them through the process, but also show them a fun side while the procedure is taking place. Some children actually want to look at what is going on, so we can go into more detail with them. The nursing staff are quite brilliant at explaining things too.
What inspired you to be a play specialist?
Most of the team have a background in schools, nurseries and crèches and I’m no different. I’ve always had an emotional attachment to children. Rather than working in a school where you focus more on core development and targets, being a play specialist allows you to support children emotionally.
Is there anything that makes Moorfields different?
Here there is very much a sense of community and a home away from home. Children come every few weeks, months and years and everyone gets to know each other.
How many children do you see on an average day?
A really busy clinic could have 60 children a day. And of course their siblings, parents, carers and sometimes neighbours join them.
What advice do you have for parents?
We show parents that it’s a very relaxed environment and, of course, we invite them to play and participate. We like to show them that it’s not all clinical stuff that goes on when their child is here. It’s actually quite nice family time. Sometimes they will finish an appointment and they will stay here, because they are having a nice bonding time with their child. When they are at home, they have things to do; cooking, cleaning etc, so they don’t have the time then.
What are the children’s’ favourite play items?
We have children that like the arts and crafts, we have children that love construction. Lots of children love animals, books and the toy kitchen. All of it! We have children that come straight through the door and go on to the Nintendo Wii. Every day and every child is different. Some build and build and some just love sitting and doing a word search.
What are the main challenges?
I think the broad age range and being able to reach out to both young children and teenagers. Once you get to know the older ones, they can warm up and they’ll talk to you. Sometimes they’ve got their gadgets and they can be more distant and might think they are too big for the play tables. If they are playing a video game, we’ll ask them questions about how to play it. We make them feel like professionals and it always makes them smile!
Have you any advice to someone wanting to be a play specialist?
It’s the best job in the world. If you’re in tune with child psychology and relieving something that could be traumatic and making it a better experience, then give it a go, you won’t regret it. It’s fantastic.
And finally, what is the most important thing you’ve learned that you could share?
No matter our abilities or disabilities, we are all individuals and should all be treated like individuals. We are all special.
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