A happier hospital stay for children

A call has gone out for volunteers to play with children in hospital, to make their time there easier, writes EMMA CONNOLLY.
A happier hospital stay for children

VOLUNTEERS are desperately needed to play with sick children in Cork University Hospital to help make their stay a happier one.

The plea has come from Children in Hospital Ireland, which is one of the country’s leading children’s charities, providing play in hospitals nationwide for over 45 years.

They are looking for people to help organise play activities for hospitalised sick children, from painting, jigsaw puzzles, playing board games to simple arts and crafts or reading stories.

A charity spokesperson said: “Hospitalisation can be a very stressful experience for both children and parents. Play helps to alleviate some of that trauma. Simple play activities introduce a reassuring normality to a strange hospital environment. It is a natural part of a child’s life and aids recovery. It also helps the child to build relationships and make new friends, and above all brings fun into the child’s life.”

Helen Vaughan.
Helen Vaughan.

Existing volunteer Helen Vaughan — who spends two hours every week with youngsters in CUH — says she always appreciates her time spent there.

Originally from Nottingham but living in Clonakilty for 17 years, the pre-school worker has been volunteering in CUH since last summer.

Herself and another volunteer visit every Wednesday from 6pm to 8pm and spend time in the playroom or at youngsters’ bedsides doing crafts or reading and the like.

“You must be on their level and be able to converse with them. I work well with kids but one thing I asked myself at the outset was how would I cope working with sick kids?

“But what we noticed is that 99% of the time the kids never talk about their illness — the focus is on play which is a distraction for them. They are suffering but you don’t know it — it doesn’t feel as if you are working with sick kids.”

Volunteers also offer parents a valuable break if they wish — although Helen says they mainly come along to the playroom with their kids.

The benefits are two way, she says: “Every week you’d meet a character, someone who might thrash you at a board game or something, and when you’re walking out you think ‘that was really fun’. Yes. you’re giving, but you get it back.”

Helen, who has two children aged 22 and 18, only wishes they had enough volunteers to visit every night as the benefits are so clear.

What is equally frustrating is that because they work in pairs, if one of the two volunteers is sick or unavailable, they have to cancel or try to find someone to fill in through their WhatsApp group.

Essentially, more volunteers are needed and Helen, who previously volunteered with Meals on Wheels, is appealing to anyone who has some free time to consider getting involved.

“This would especially suit anyone training in this area or someone who is retired,” she said.

Children in Hospital Ireland are holding an Introduction & Interview evening on Wednesday, April 26, at 6pm in Cork.

Successful candidates will then be invited to attend a training session to be held on Saturday, May 6 from 10am to 4pm, also in Cork. Those interested should email info@childreninhospital.ie / (01) 290 3510.

Volunteers must be over 18 years of age, enthusiastic, caring, reliable and have two to three hours a week to spare and be prepared to sign up for a year.

All volunteer will undergo Garda Vetting/Police Clearance.

CHI provides a comprehensive training programme and on-going support and upskilling for volunteers.

ABOUT CHILDREN IN HOSPITAL

Each year in Ireland there are, on average, over 270,000 hospital visits by children.

For over 100,000 this means an average three night stay.

Every year, 75,000 child inpatients are under four years of age and almost all are admitted through A&E — an unexpected and unplanned visit.

Children in Hospital Ireland (CHI) is a national non-profit organisation committed to making hospital a happier place for sick children through play and advocacy.

The organisation promotes and ensures the welfare of sick children generally, and in particular, before, during and after hospitalisation, by drawing attention to their emotional and developmental needs.

CHI uses its expertise to deliver unique daily and weekly play sessions that support child patients, parents and staff in 13 hospital wards and playrooms nationwide.

Currently there are 480 volunteers providing 43,000 volunteer hours of play annually.

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