The Life is Good Kids Foundation helps kids overcome life-threatening challenges such as violence, illness and extreme poverty. Our Playmakers Initiative provides training, resources and support to the adults dedicated to caring for these children so that all involved lead healthier, more joyful lives. The Playmakers Child Life Training Retreat adapted and transformed a teacher-designed program for use in a medical setting for a new segment of caregivers serving children with life-threatening challenges. Playmakers delivered this training outside of a traditional conference setting, through a 2-day retreat featuring lectures, yoga classes, video, dialogue, and games instruction. A major focus of training was the self-care and playfulness of Child Life staff – Playmakers believe only through adults’ own sense of playfulness can caregivers foster a sense of joy, love, empowerment, and engagement in children.
In researching the responsibilities and approach of over 3,500 Child Life workers practicing throughout the U.S., Playmakers found that few had the necessary tools to utilize play to help children handle the emotional trauma associated with severe illness. In response, Playmakers designed a 2-day Training Retreat and follow-up protocol for Child Life specialists focused on strengthening the emotional lives of children through play. Young children who have experienced trauma often need specialized guidance to help them learn how to play; the same holds true for children struggling with social and emotional trauma of illness. Regardless of the hurdle, play is an essential antidote to adversity for every child. In the case of severely ill children, play helps restore a child’s healthy development allowing medical and complementary therapies a higher chance of success.
To gain a better understanding of the needs of Child Life specialists, all Playmakers staff shadowed at least two Child Life professionals at their hospital settings (at Children’s Hospital Boston and the Boston Medical Center). We also held discussion sessions and in-depth interviews with Child Life specialists and administrators at our home office and in their clinical settings to help fine-tune our training program.
In the fall of 2009, Playmakers convened an advisory panel comprised of Child Life specialists, students, professors, and administrators working with children in hospitals. The panel discussed opportunities for bringing Playmakers’ pioneering training approach to hospital staff caring for acutely sick children. After nearly a year of studying and learning about Child Life specialists, Playmakers adapted its training methodology for Child Life specialists.
After our extensive observation and research, as well as gathering community input, we developed a training protocol specifically designed to meet the needs of Child Life Specialists. We then undertook an intensive 3-month recruitment effort focused on New England hospitals and organizations working with seriously ill children. Then we administered the training – a 2-day retreat featuring lectures, yoga classes, video, dialogue, and games instruction. Finally, we developed and executed a follow-up protocol for all Training Retreats to support participants via phone, e-mail, and site visits.
A participant survey was conducted after the training with a 95% response rate. At the conclusion of the retreat, each Child Care Specialist was asked to design his/her own Playfulness Plan. Each participant will receive 4 hours of individual support through phone or site visit contacts from Playmakers trainers over the course of the next 12 months. Playmakers is working to develop a playfulness scale. The Scale asks questions about a child’s behavior, such as how often a child smiles, laughs or shares ideas during play. Over the next six months, we will ask Playmakers-trained Child Life specialists to implement this measure with select patients.
Playmakers will continue to provide ongoing support to trained Child Life specialists as determined (and led) by the trainees. In addition Playmakers-trained Child Life specialists participate in monthly Community of Playfulness meetings to share ideas and support each other as they spread playfulness throughout their communities, work environments, and homes.
In September of 2010, Playmakers held its first Child Life Playmaker Training Retreat for 33 Child Life specialists in Dedham, MA. Child Life staff from Boston Medical Center, Children’s Hospital Boston, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Hole in the Wall Gang, Joslin Diabetes Center, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation attended. Our first retreat, along with Founder Steve Gross’s keynote in October 2009 at the New England Child Life Professionals Conference and the workshop at the June 2010 Child Life Council Conference in Phoenix, AZ, has sparked a revolution in how Child Life specialists approach play to heal children. Over 33 Playkits, specially designed to support the work of Child Life specialists, are in use in hospitals in New England and throughout the country.
Survey results from conference participants reflected the most impactful element of the training has been the rekindling of Child Life staffs’ own sense playfulness as a tool to reach patients. A second Child Life Playmaker Training Retreat is scheduled for 2011 for Child Life specialists working throughout the greater New England area.
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