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Pilot scheme supports siblings of children in intensive care

Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice is working in partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) on a sibling support programme for families with children in intensive care.

The pilot scheme is providing a crèche staffed by trained Noah’s Ark volunteers at the hospital each Wednesday for two hours after school. Any sibling of a child in neonatal, cardio or paediatric intensive care can attend the crèche.

Helen Marshall, Team Leader (Home Support & Family Activities Volunteering) from Noah’s Ark explained the background: “GOSH has a well-established volunteering service but a gap was identified in this area, and we were really pleased to step in. The scheme is great for us, allowing us to help more families in need.”

The Family Liaison Nurses in the intensive care units at GOSH have provided a range of games, puzzles and craft resources for the crèche. With the majority of children who’ve attended so far aged under three, the most popular activities have included soft and sensory toys, blowing bubbles and drawing. Building (and knocking down) towers from rubber bricks has also gone down well and, if the children seem tired, volunteers sing nursery rhymes and read stories from the room’s little library.

Eleanor has been volunteering with the scheme since its launch and has been a Home Support and Family Activities Volunteer with Noah’s Ark since March. She also volunteers with GOSH’s Weekend Club, which provides play activities for patients and siblings.

For Eleanor personal experience of similar support during a traumatic period in her life has made volunteering all the more poignant. “Working with children and young people has been a passion of mine for many years, especially within the health sector, and I’ve had so much fun as a Noah’s Ark volunteer,” she said. “I can identify and empathise with many of the emotional strains affecting both the siblings and the families. The opportunity to be involved in such a special niche pilot so close to my heart was too exciting to miss.

“The Noah’s Ark volunteers who make up the crèche team are all amazing; everyone brings something different to the table, so we have a diverse range of skills to offer.”

The crèche has been used when parents need dedicated time to have specialist care training, or to spend time with their unwell child knowing their siblings are safe and having fun. It also allows the siblings freedom to play, a change of scene and a space to interact with other children.

Says Eleanor: “We’ve had some amazing verbal feedback from parents. Sometimes the parents ask questions about the service and end up staying for a chat, so we also provide a safe space away from the wards for them to talk about anything they wish, be it the weather, their work or their family.

“When a parent arrives at the close of the crèche and tells us just how much those few hours have helped them, it really puts in perspective how valuable the service is. I feel very lucky to be part of this innovative project, and to be able to work alongside such wonderful people!”

The pilot runs until the end of January. However, due to the positive feedback it has received from families and the team at GOSH, Noah’s Ark plans to continue it, hopefully expanding to two days per week in the future.

Meanwhile Noah’s Ark’s Music Therapist, Kirsty Ormston has also been providing sessions to families of children in neonatal intensive care at GOSH. She said: “The families are able to access weekly sessions whilst on the ward where they can share music with each other. This may include humming long notes to soothe and settle infants or singing a favourite pop song that has been changed into a lullaby. This is a special time for families to relax together within the hospital environment.”

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