Curing the summertime blues: Program supports brothers, sisters of Mott patients

July 26, 2017  //  FOUND IN: News,

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For parents, having a child in the hospital can be stressful any time of the year, but it can be especially difficult in the summertime. When school lets out, parents struggle to balance caring for a child in the hospital and making time for their other children, too.

That’s why the Sibling Program aims to provide time and space for the brothers and sisters of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital patients to have some fun.

It was created almost a decade ago when Julie Piazza, a certified child life specialist and project manager in the Office of Patient Experience, and other Child and Family Life staff recognized the need for a designated space for siblings of kids on inpatient and outpatient units.

“I was working as an internship coordinator and child life specialist in the PACU at the time, and our units were often overwhelmed by kids in the summer when school let out,” said Julie. “The activity rooms designed for patients couldn’t handle the number of healthy, active kids and individual units weren’t equipped to provide activities for them.”

So Julie set about finding a sustainable location for siblings that would provide safe, supervised care — the roots of the Sibling Program. Today, the donor-funded program employs four full-time staff members who create weekly activity plans.

A little learning and a lot of fun

During the summer, the Sibling Program is offered daily from 1 to 4 p.m.

Program participants must be at least 3 years old (and potty trained). The number of kids in the program can range from just a few to more than 10, depending on hospital volume. Employees and volunteers work hard to create games and activities that provide kids a chance to have a little fun for a few hours each day.

“Our goal is to provide a safe environment in which they can just be kids for a few hours,” said Ann Hendrick, manager of the Mott Family Center. “We also make sure they receive a lot of one-on-one attention because we know they can’t always be the focus at home with a sibling who is sick.”

Every day, the program is staffed with two employees, practicum students who are pursuing a career in child life services, and volunteers. Every week features a different theme and staff members plan daily activities which align with the theme, such as Monster Week, Cooking Week and Wild About Nature Week. They try to include a little education along with the fun.

“Our program is designed to engage the kids in activities but also help them learn about various hospital experiences,” said Kristan Freitag, a certified child life specialist at Mott. “We try to help them better understand what is happening with their sibling during their time in the hospital.”

‘A chance to breathe’

Coordinators of the Sibling Program understand the importance of offering amenities that ease the burden of spending long periods of time in the hospital.

“We sometimes have patients who are in the hospital for months at a time, and the entire family is staying at the Ronald McDonald House for that duration,” said Hendrick. “Being away from home that long can be hard on everyone, especially children who may not fully understand why they can’t be at home.”

Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from the program. It also provides parents with the opportunity to have a small window of time to unwind and take care of themselves. Parents must remain on-site at the hospital while their children participate, but they don’t need to be present.

“Parents are often so focused on their child’s treatment that they can have a hard time remembering to take care of themselves,” said Freitag. “The Sibling Program enables them to have a few hours in which they can take a much-needed nap, grab a cup of coffee or go for a walk. It gives our parents a much-needed chance to breathe.”