Getting to know the Play Team

The Play Team work as part of a multidisciplinary team by providing play as a therapeutic tool for children and young people who are in hospital, whilst ensuring the children’s experience whilst there is the best it can possibly be. This team operates across Good Hope Hospital and Heartlands Hospital and consists of six Play Assistants and a Play Specialist. When we caught up with this team they kindly shared the day-to-day duties of their role, and also provided an insight into the distinct difference between the roles in this team.

A selection of some of the toys the Play Team uses with their patients

Play Assistant - Zoe

Play Assistants support the holistic development of the child in the hospital setting, ensuring that they have fun and enjoy their time whilst they are there. Zoe is one of the Play Assistants in this wonderful team. Here, she told us all about her incredibly varied role, and gave us an insight into her wide ranging duties and what inspired her to pursue such an exciting career.

“Personally, I wanted to become a Play Assistant because a few years ago my niece had meningitis and seeing what the Play Team did to support her whilst she was in hospital I knew it was something I wanted to go into and that was the best move I’ve ever made.

“From my point of view as a Play Assistant, you come into work not knowing exactly what you will be doing that day, it can change every day;  it can even change from minute to minute.  You get children coming in with all sorts of different things and you’ve got to try think on your feet, which might involve distraction techniques when children are having bloods or when they’re just a little scared of the medical team. You have to try get on their level and support them to the best of their development and to the best of your knowledge.

“I had a little boy come in recently with a broken leg and I was the first one to see him, so throughout his journey he remembered me. I gave him the play medical equipment as at first he was frightened of the doctors. However, his mum said by him using the play medical equipment it helped quite a bit since he was using them on his mum and his toys, so it was getting him used to the medical equipment in a play environment.

“A big part of the role is also supporting the parents, which can involve giving the parent a break even just to go get a coffee. So we comfort the babies, give them their bottles and do some play activities with them whilst mum or dad goes and has a break.

“I’ve also created a box to help older patients with their mental health, which includes lots of mindfulness activities, affirmation cards, stress balls, fidget toys – something they can focus on. It’s all about trying to give them a positive experience when they first come in.

“I love the role but it can also be challenging. When you’ve worked with a child and you hear that they’ve passed away, it’s hard. But the team is always there to support; you are never on your own.”

Play Specialist - Chloe

Similarly to the Play Assistants, the Play Specialist supports children whilst they are in hospital however; this role has more of a medical aim. Play Specialist, Chloe, has just recently joined this team and shared with us all about her aspirations for the role and why she loves what she does.

“Becoming a Play Specialist involves a two year part-time course, as well as a placement in a hospital. I’ve worked in a lot of different settings – I’ve worked in the school setting, I’ve worked in the care setting, all supporting children’s individual needs. So, it felt like a natural progression to enter the hospital setting.

“My role as a Play Specialist supports the effectiveness of treatments and procedures,  so it involves offering support, creating plans, reducing anxiety and using play as an educational tool. Play can be used as a way to learn how the bloods are going to happen or what equipment is going to get used on the child during theatres. They may be required to have a cannula or use an anesthetic mask, so through play I would be providing the education regarding the use of the numbing cream and how to take breaths. Play Specialists can also support with the theatre preparation: a child might say they don’t want to go to theatre without the numbing cream or they might not want to go without a Play Specialist, so my role would be to create a personalized plan around their wishes. We can also use distraction techniques during procedures to keep the child occupied whilst they are undergoing treatment. Post-procedural support is also vital and involves giving verbal recognition to the patient afterwards that they’ve done a really good job or giving them a voice to change their health care plan where possible.

“Both of our roles [Play Assistants and Play Specialist] are about being adaptive to the specific child; regarding the child’s development and the stage that they’re at. So the Play Assistants often will have to find the activities that they feel will suit that specific age or that ability. It can also be reassuring for a child to see people in a blue polo top; it provides a friendly face in an unfamiliar environment.

“Pre-COVID the Play Room would be open and we would have themed weeks, depending on the time of the year. It’s especially nice when a child has been in a while, to offer that variation. When things go more back to normal [with regards to COVID restrictions], we will encourage that interaction between patients, as a child learns so much about communication, language, speech, interpersonal skills through play.

“Because the children are in such an unfamiliar environment, we try to make them as comfortable as possible in a place that can be a little frightening for them, so resources and play activities contribute to a positive experience, bringing joy, fun and some laughter to quite a scary place. We really just want to normalize play in very difficult times, and I think people under-value the difference play can make to a child’s experience.

“At the end of the day we provide a friendly face for the patients; we are the people that are warm, welcoming and engaging to ensure a positive time whilst they’re here.

“I am new to the team so we are hoping to boost morale and bring in a lot of new excitement around the Play Team. It’s obviously never nice to watch children struggling with things; that can be really difficult to watch. But it really is so rewarding when you’re part of a child’s journey though an illness or if you’re a part of the parent’s support. It’s just such a good feeling coming to work everyday knowing you are doing something good for someone else. It’s all about the relationships you build. Sometimes you might not get the outcome you want, but it’s being that positive part of that child’s day; just bringing some brightness to a very difficult time.”

Chloe (above), Play Specialist

UHB Charity has supported the Play Team in numerous ways in the past; including refurbishments of Children’s wards and by having magicians entertain the patients. However, it is only with your support that we can fund new and exciting things to make a child’s stay in hospital that bit more enjoyable during such a difficult time in their lives.

If you would like to support the Play Team’s activities and make children's time in hospital that little bit more comfortable, you can donate here, by stating 'UHB Paediatric Fund' on your donation.

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