New Center Gives Patient Siblings a Place to Play, Connect, Create
The new space is located inside the newly expanded Dodson Specialty Clinics building at Cook Children’s Medical Center – Fort Worth.
By Ashley Antle
On Tuesday, Cook Children’s Health Care System celebrated the grand opening of a new space dedicated to the siblings of children with medically complex needs. It’s called the Panda Cares® Center of Hope Sibling Support Center and is located inside the newly expanded Dodson Specialty Clinics building at Cook Children’s Medical Center – Fort Worth.
The Panda Cares Center of Hope Sibling Support Center offers the siblings of Dodson Specialty Clinic patients a place to play, create and connect with other children whose families face similar challenges while their brother or sister attends clinic appointments. It also relieves the stress of parents and caregivers so they can concentrate on their child’s medical appointments knowing their other children have a safe and supportive space dedicated to their well-being, too.
The complex medical needs of a child with a chronic condition or life-changing injury can strain the mental and emotional health of the whole family, including brothers and sisters, according to Audra Trussell, coordinator of the Panda Cares Center of Hope Sibling Support Center.
“We are really focused on the sibling’s emotional and psychosocial care,” Trussell said. “A lot of times, they don’t need as much attention as their chronically ill brother or sister so they may feel a little left out and dragged around from appointment to appointment. At this center, we’re able to focus on those kids, give them the care they deserve as well, help them process their feelings and what they are experiencing, and make them feel like a member of the Cook Children’s family, too.”
The center is staffed by Trussell, who has a background in child development, and Judith Siharath, Panda Cares Center of Hope Sibling Support Center assistant, who has experience in psychology and child development. Cook Children’s volunteers will also be on hand to assist.
Everything for the Child
The Panda Cares Center of Hope Sibling Support Center is a therapeutic activity center full of everything for the child, from developmentally appropriate toys and sensory play items to arts and craft supplies. Each day Trussell and Siharath will offer child visitors a guided activity that sparks their imagination, creativity and conversation.
“Every day we'll have a different activity to do that will open up a new discussion for our sibling guests because, given their family’s situation, they might not get that opportunity outside of here, and we want to make sure they feel like they are the center of attention,” Siharath explained. “For example, we have an activity where kids can make a rainbow with colors based upon their feelings. We would ask them questions like, ‘What colors represent you?’ and ‘Which color represents your inside and outside feelings?’”
The questions are meant to help kids connect with other children who also have a sibling with a medical condition and may be experiencing similar emotions related to their brother or sister’s health.
“When we're all sitting around the table and these open-ended questions are being asked to help draw the child out and give them an opportunity to speak up, they'll get to hear other siblings say some things that they may not have felt like they could say out loud, and feelings that they’ve had regarding their sibling that is a patient,” Trussell said. “So that peer-to-peer support is an important piece that we want to emphasize here, too.”
Connecting the Dots for the Whole Family
Together with other Cook Children’s sibling support programs, The Panda Cares Center of Hope Sibling Support Center connects the dots of family-centered care at the health system. It’s an extension, Trussell says, of the work Child Life Services does to care for the mental and emotional health of the whole family through offerings like the Cook Children’s Sib2Sib Program™. Through weekend workshops, camps and family events, Sib2Sib gives patient siblings the opportunity to express themselves and their feelings, receive undivided adult attention, learn coping skills and connect with peers living in similar circumstances.
Sometimes a child will express fear or misunderstanding about their sibling’s health, treatment, or injury while visiting the Panda Cares Center of Hope Sibling Support Center or any of Cook Children’s sibling support programs. For example, if a child has experienced a pet being “put to sleep” they sometimes correlate that term with death, and may think their brother or sister is going to die because they are having a procedure where they will be put to sleep.
“When we hear those things we’ll be able to share that with their parents and connect all of them with a Child Life specialist that can help explain what the procedure is, what's really going to happen medically, and what all the terminology means in good, child-appropriate language that they understand,” Trussell said.
Together, all of these programs and services connect the dots of family-centered care at Cook Children’s.
The Panda Cares Center of Hope Sibling Support Center at Cook Children’s is made possible through the support of Panda Cares®, the philanthropic arm of the Asian dining concept Panda Express®, and its partnership with Children’s Miracle Network (CMN), of which Cook Children's is a member. Following a multimillion-dollar commitment to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals to fund Panda Cares Centers of Hope, Panda and CMN Hospitals have debuted Center of Hope locations at several hospitals in the U.S. from California and Texas to Hawaii and Washington D.C.
The Panda Cares Center of Hope Sibling Support Center at Cook Children’s is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to siblings, ages 3 to 11, of patients who have a clinic appointment. Children may attend the center for 90 minutes per visit. It is free to families. Reservations are not required but parents will be asked to complete a registration and consent form.
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