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Child and Family Studies’ Child-Life program offers support to children at vaccine clinics

Published: December 20, 2021 Author: Staff reports

Students in the College of Health Sciences and Professions’ (CHSP) Child and Family Studies’ Child-Life program have been working since the beginning of December with the Athens City-County Health Department (ACCHD) 5- to 11-year-old child vaccine clinics to help children receiving the vaccine understand what is happening and ease their anxiety.

Rebecca Robison-Miller, senior director of community partnerships in the College and adjunct professor in Child and Family Studies, understood and advocated for the need for child life interventions at these clinics and connected with the ACCHD to find ways for students in the Child Life program to gain experience in the community while providing a benefit for local families.

Jenny Chabot, Ph.D., associate professor of Child and Family Studies, and Janelle Mitchell, assistant clinical professor of Child and Family Studies, also worked with the ACCHD to finalize the details of the students’ work and have been helping at the clinics.

“Our students are leveraging their academic prowess with their clinical and volunteer experience to support children and families during some of their most vulnerable times,” Mitchell said. “Medical trauma and negative health care experiences can impact our ability to receive care; therefore, the vaccine clinic is a wonderful opportunity for our students to engage in evidence-based practice while promoting emotional safety. In addition, we spend time in our CHSP interdisciplinary simulation lab role-playing case scenarios, so this opportunity allows our students to use their assessment skills and practice situational awareness.”

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The students help provide wayfinding for families arriving to the vaccine clinic, as well as use their assessment skills to identify children who may have difficulty coping when entering the building and during wait times. To help the children relax and lower their anxiety, students will engage with the children through evidence-based distraction techniques and play modalities, building a rapport while they wait. Some of these engaging activities can include blowing bubbles, playing card games, doing art activities, and debriefing families.

Mitchell explains that play is universal, therefore, we understand that children communicate through play and use play as a foundational element to establish rapport and allow for us to meet them at their development level.

“Our goal is to promote optimal health care experiences by reducing the fear of the unknown and supporting the overall development of children. The closest freestanding children’s hospitals in the region with child life programs are Nationwide Children’s, Cincinnati Children’s and WVU Children’s Hospital, so unless a child or family has had child life services, the concept is relatively new,” Mitchell said. “We want families to know that when you create a welcoming environment, incorporate play, and offer choice and control to children, their overall perception of the health care experience can change for the better.”

For Hayleigh Larmore, a graduate student in the Child Life graduate program studying to become a certified child life specialist, being able to reduce the fear for children getting the vaccine and bringing awareness to the importance of having child-life specialists in health care are the best parts of working at these clinics.

“I think that exposing the community to the work that child life does is not only going to really help the vaccine process for the children, but it will also expose the community so they can utilize child life in the future too,” Larmore said. “I also think that our program's involvement with these clinics is showing just how much we prioritize and care about the well-being of children in the Athens community.”

At the clinic, students also accompany families back to the vaccination and private rooms and determine which level of intervention is appropriate for each child. For some children, explaining the sequencing of events, giving honest information about what is about to happen, and using minimally threatening language such as the word “poke” instead of shot will help positively impact their ability to cope. Once the child has been given their “poke,” students will then provide post-procedural support.

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“Many of these kids walk in dreading the experience, however, once they see all the bubbles, toys, costumes, and smiling faces, they begin to feel more comfortable and reassured,” Larmore said. “I feel so good about being able to be help and get to know all different kinds of kids and families in my community.”

Bridget Franklin, a second-year graduate student in the Child Life graduate program studying to be a certified child life specialist, also explained how the vaccine clinics have allowed her to build upon her existing knowledge and skills of child development, psychology and family studies.

“It is such a privilege to be a part of something we are so fortunate to have in Athens,” Franklin said. “I get to develop rapport with the children and families from the Athens community as well as create a positive health care experience. I am able to use different types of play to create a distraction, develop preparation, and initiate coping to the entire vaccine experience. These clinics allow us graduate students to see theory come to life in practice as we navigate through current health care needs. This opportunity is invaluable to our program.”