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CHEO Child Life program helping kids feel at ease while at the hospital

A hospital experience can be scary for a young child or teen. Whether it’s a serious diagnosis, life changing surgery or the start of chemotherapy, the Child Life Services program at CHEO aims to help kids feel at ease.

For 10-year-old Audrey Sine, it makes dealing with cancer less stressful.

“I like hanging out with them and I like doing crafts,” said Sine. “They’re very fun to play with and stuff.”

At CHEO, child life specialists bring the healing power of play through games, crafts and music therapy.

“We are the protectors of childhood,” said Maureen Jones, who works in the Child Life Services department. “We’ve been given an opportunity to enter a field or an environment where children are often stressed and often exposed to having to build resilience much earlier than the average child, because illness is a journey that can have some significant ups and downs.”

The program has touched thousands of lives over nearly 50 years.

Denise Alcock, first brought the idea to CHEO in the 1970’s.

“It’s wonderful just to see how it’s grown and developed, because I always feel what we did was lay a foundation and grow a program. But it has grown magnificently,” said Alcock, who is now retired.

What started as five staff members, has grown to 20, with nearly no wait list for patients.

It’s all funded by community donors and is accessible to any child at the hospital.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all, so it’s getting to know the child and it’s usually through, as I said, assessment, but also building that therapeutic relationship, having an opportunity to have environments like the playroom, which are considered safe spaces,” said Jones.

For the young ones in the program, it’s a chance to feel like a kid again while building resilience for the challenges ahead.

“I love being creative,” said Sine.

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