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Joseph M. Still Burn Center

Addressing The Emotional Needs Of The Child

Erin Carrick with patient
Erin Carrick, Certified Child Life Specialist at Doctors Hospital, has fun with a pediatric burn patient while he gets his dressing changed

Pediatric patients in general present a challenge because of the fear and discomfort they experience. To help its pediatric burn patients deal with the unfamiliarity of their care and treatment, Doctors Hospital employs a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS).

“The biggest part of my job is helping to make the environment as normal as possible in the midst of being in a weird room, exposed to all kinds of machines and sounds, and lots of people coming in and out,” says Erin Carrick, CCLS, who has been with the hospital since 2010. “Child Life Specialists (CLS) are fairly common in a children’s hospital setting, but we are setting a new standard for burn care centers by employing one full time here.”

The CLS explains to the child what she will be seeing and hearing, even down to opening and closing cabinet doors and drawers, and tearing open a dressing

package to recreate the sound. This helps the child become more relaxed, which helps the parents to become more relaxed.

The CLS also works with the parents to help them be aware of what to expect and understand what’s going on. For example, once the surgeon has visited with the parents, the CLS may inquire of the parents what was discussed to assess their level of understanding and intervene with getting them the information they need to know.

One word best describes the role of the CLS – distraction. Whether it’s to take the child’s attention away from dressing changes or simply to spend time talking and playing with the child to help him forget, however briefly, that he is in the hospital, the CLS augments the ability of the burn center team to treat the child effectively.

Carrick explains that she will distract the child as the physical therapist is helping her to finally stand or move her body in a way she hasn’t done since being burned. “Usually there’s more fear of hurting than actual pain when having to move. Distraction helps the children do things when they don’t even realize they’re doing it.”

The CLS’s role is not just about being there during treatment – it’s about helping the child experience happiness in the midst of fear and discomfort. “I had a five-year-old patient in the ICU who was intubated and was able to play with the Play Station II. Usually the ICU patients I see are not that functioning but it’s always rewarding to be able to get a child actively involved in a fun activity that gives him some sense of normalcy,” Carrick says with a smile.