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Child Life for Inpatient Mental Health Programs

This year the Child Life team at Franciscan Children’s recently expanded to provide services to our patients in our McLean-Franciscan Child and Adolescent Inpatient Mental Health Program (Unit 1). Unit 1 is a place for hope and healing for children in psychiatric crisis, offering expert crisis stabilization, assessment, and inpatient mental health treatment in a safe and nurturing environment.

Inpatient Mental Health Artwork - HOPE

At Franciscan Children’s our Child Life Specialists promote effective coping, and facilitate healing through play, preparation, education, and self-expression activities. In honor of Child Life Month, we sat down with Sami, our Unit 1 Child Life Specialist, to learn more about how the team has expanded to provide support and services to patients in our Inpatient Mental Health Program.

Can you tell us a little bit about the role of Child Life on Unit 1?
I work mostly 1:1 with patients on Unit 1, providing therapeutic play opportunities that help them adjust to the Unit, participate in the daily program, and ultimately discover coping strategies that work for them. Something that I do is carry a bag around with me, similar to a distraction bag, but it’s known as my “bag of tricks” and is filled with all kinds of craft and sensory materials, logic print outs, and games. This bag has become my signature item and helps me build rapport with patients while also giving them the control to choose what activity we work on.

How would you describe the staff on Unit 1?
Unit 1 is like one big family; the staff work together to create a sense of community and safety for not only the patients and families, but also each other. No matter what is going on, staff is always around to support each other and ensure that the needs of each patient are met. I consider myself very lucky to get the chance to work so closely with such an enthusiastic and dedicated group of professionals.

What is one of the most fun or creative therapeutic activities you have done with the patients on Unit 1?
I have already done so many fun and memorable activities with the patients on Unit 1, but I’d say that one of my favorites was a multimedia collage project. It started off as a simple tissue paper collage and transformed into a three day mantra project. The patient chose a word that was inspiring to them and used washi tape and paint to form that word on the canvas. The end product was a visual and concrete reminder of the patient’s mantra that they could use during difficult or stressful times.

What do you love about being a Child Life Specialist?
As a Child Life Specialist, I get the chance to meet so many amazing children and build a trusting and therapeutic relationship with them. I love being able to get to know the patients that I work with and help them discover the unique strengths that make them resilient.

Unit 1 Meme and Art Collage

We also sat down with Juliette , RN Clinical Coordinator, to ask her about how she’s seen Sami and Child Life integrate into the care provided on Unit 1.

How have you seen Child Life services benefiting the patients and/or staff on Unit 1?
The patients love our Child Life Specialist and all the wonderful activities she brings to Unit 1! You often hear patients shouting her name in eager anticipation, knowing she has something fun to do. When patients are not able to participate in the typical program Sami is ready with something new. She is a friendly face they have come to trust, building connections with art projects, sensory tools, or making up new games.

What has been one of your favorite activities or services you have done with Sami and patients?
One of my favorites is the “Unit 1 meme game.” Patients helped to create it and now get to enjoy a silly activity together while poking fun at the quirks of the Unit.

If you had to pick an animal to represent Sami, what would it be?
I think it would be a butterfly. When I think of Sami, I think of all the wonderful colors of the art projects she helps to create – quiet and gentle, but friendly and floating around to all, like the eager anticipation of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. Sami always has people guessing what new tricks will come out of her bag.

Thank you to our fantastic Child Life team for the creativity, compassion and fun they bring to our patients and families every day!

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