Monthly Archives: March 2012

Setting up child life services in India: Success in the Face of Continued Challenges

As National Child Life Month draws to a close, we continue our spotlight on Jeanine Clapsaddle. Jeanine is a Child Life specialist from Children’s who is in India for two months to help set up Child Life services at Manipal Hospital.

Jeanine’s trip is in partnership with the Priyanka Foundation, which was established to fulfill the dying wish of a former Children’s patient who wanted other kids around the world to get the same care she received. Jeanine is documenting her experiences through this blog series.

This is the fourth report from her trip:


The Child Life office here at Manipal is located just off the waiting room to the vaccination clinic. I am provided with ample opportunity to watch families with children of all ages interact while they wait or recover from their visit. I have been invited to gaze upon babies who, quite frankly, are breathtakingly beautiful with their heads of full, lustrous hair and dark eyes.

On more than one occasion every day, I am treated to games of peek-a-boo with curious toddlers who delight with running in and out of the open office door. Some grab their parents by the hand and drag them to the door to show them what they’ve discovered.

Parents are always gracious and smile, sometimes sharing the child’s name or asking questions about where I come from and what I’m doing at Manipal.

Today, in this same waiting room, I was witness how far my students have come in the short time I have been here, as well as how far we have to go.

I was in the office with my student, Sunitha, when we heard, as we frequently do, the traumatic screams of a child being carried to the vaccination room.  Somehow this girl of about 6 was able to escape her father’s arms and run back out into the waiting room. She was hunkered down in a corner sobbing.

In the blink of an eye, without any prodding from me, Sunitha grabbed a bubble tumbler and took off to approach the girl. Although the girl did not want to blow the bubbles, she was able to watch Sunitha blow them and settle herself some. Sunitha was able to talk with her quietly until the girl’s father could come and sit down next to her.

When the father was able to pick his daughter up, he approached our office door and Sunitha explained that I was here training her and as such we could give him some help with the situation.  I explained the work of Child Life as quickly as I could, shared some strategies such as positioning for comfort and distraction, and walked with him to the vaccination room, hoping that this would be the in-road that I had been longing for with the staff.

No such luck. The nurse was quick to dismiss us and our suggestions to the point of shutting the door in our faces. Sunitha and I walked the 10 steps back to our office to endure the resulting screams. As they left the vaccination room, the father stopped by the office door and thanked us for our help.

Despite the less than optimal outcome, I couldn’t have been more proud of Sunitha’s initiative and genuine attempts to help this child. I have observed the work of my students consistently and know that their skills are progressing. We spend time discussing various aspects of child life practice, dissecting my observations as well as theirs and converting understanding into guided actions.

But in this moment, I was aware that at some point the culmination of teaching is the development of some internal instinct about the work. Sunitha didn’t stop and ask me if she should or how to intervene with this child.  She grabbed the bubbles and took off. And I stood in the doorway to not only to use the opportunity to observe her work, but to also appreciate the intuition that activated her.

Being a good advocate, like in this case, does not always secure the actions or outcomes we strive for, with staff or with families. In the past week, we have done presentations for nearly five hundred of the physicians and nurses in the hospital, introducing them to the work of Child Life. And although I would speculate that this vaccination clinic nurse didn’t attend any of the presentations, I know that new and innovative programs are often met with resistance.

There are lessons to be learned about approaching barriers with subtly and persistence.  There will always be medical providers of all sorts, in hospitals everywhere, who see the work of child life as an intrusion or unnecessary.

But knowing that we gave this child a moment of respite to catch her breath, and her father some tools that he can use in the future, is enough to know that we do make an important difference in the lives of children and their families.

I hope that this is something my students will learn along with the technical aspects of providing care.

St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser at Children’s: Why I am shaving my head

This is a guest post by Tanya Juarez-Sweeney, Child and Family Services Project Specialist at Children’s, who, along with her husband and son, will be shaving her head during Thursday’s St. Baldrick’s Foundation head-shaving event, hosted at Children’s – Minneapolis.

It was a typical day in Star Studio when someone knocked on the door. That someone was Dr. Kris Ann Schultz, one of Children’s pediatric oncologists. This chance encounter would lead me to the decision to join the St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser taking place at Children’s on Thursday, March 29.

“How many women do you have signed up to shave?” a coworker asked.

“None yet. It is harder to get women to sign up,” Dr. Shultz answered.

“I’d shave my head for that cause,” I chimed in.

“If you do that, I’ll donate $50,” my coworker replied

“If you do it, I’ll donate $50 too,” Dr. Schultz added.

And so it began.

I spent a few days thinking the decision through, bouncing it off people and considering their opinions. Amusingly, a few people offered to donate to keep me from shaving. Several people shared their stories of someone they knew who was a patient at Children’s; touching my heart and reaffirming the immense pride I have in the work we do here.

Ultimately it came down to the question “Why wouldn’t I?” Would I look too scary to lead the children’s field trips at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts where I volunteer? Would my own children get teased at school about their mother’s new look? What would they think? Exactly. What message would I send my children and the children I volunteer with if I did this? A darn good one, I decided.

As a former Army Staff Sergeant, I believe in leading by example; walking the walk. I’m not only sending a message to the children fighting this disease that I stand by them and support them, I am creating teachable moments for those around these families, and raising money for research to boot; win-win-win.

I have been asked a plethora of questions:

“What do your husband and kids think?” My daughter and son think I will look like a ‘cool punk girl.’ In fact, my son thinks it is so great, he has signed up to shave with me and my daughter donated her hair to Locks of Love.

My husband is also a Children’s employee. He tells me I’ll be “striking” and I know that he loves me in part for the fact that I am not superficial, but I know he’ll miss these crazy locks of hair. How lucky am I that he “gets it.” Not only does he get it, he’s also going to shave with me. What an amazing life partner I have.

 “Are you going to wear a scarf/hat/wig after the shave?” Sure, maybe a hat once in awhile. I like hats. But doesn’t that defeat part of the purpose? I’m raising money for this cause but also sending a message to the hematology/oncology kids I see every day. I care. I stand by you. I admire your strength. And thanks for showing me how to rock this look!

“Do you think you might cry when they shave your head?” If you have looked at any of the photos on the St Baldrick’s website, you are bound to come across some tears. For a few, they may be tears of loss from the attachment they have to their hair. For many I think the tears are symbolic of their support and dedication to this cause.

Will I cry? I’ve thought about this. My head will either be shaved by my co-worker (who will be MC’ing the show as our beloved TV character, The Dude) or by a patient. If a patient does the shaving, I’m pretty sure I’ll shed a few tears.

I’ve been hearing a lot of feedback about how brave I am to shave my head for this cause. But I am not the brave one; the kids who fight this disease are.

Recently, I heard a mother express concern about her 9-year-old daughter returning to school and getting teased by her classmates because she not only has no hair, she also has a large scar from her surgery. This girl touched my heart. Her bravery is bigger than anything I can imagine.

Anytime something unjust happens to a child, it fills me with sadness and helplessness. What can I do? What is in my power? Perhaps there isn’t much I can do. But maybe the smallest thing, like shaving my head, can make a statement that I care. And if it raises money for children’s cancer research in the process, then what a great thing.

Children’s Memorial Service Remembers with Love

Every year at Children’s Hospital we take time to remember those we have lost

The most difficult experience in life is to lose a child.  Whether to injury or to illness, the death of a child is the universe out of order.

Every year at Children’s Hospital, we gather  in friendship as parents, grandparents, caregivers and others for a non-denominational memorial service to remember – to call the names of the children we have lost, to light a candle in remembrance, to reflect among those who share the bond of common experience in  a service celebrating the children who are remembered with love.

This year’s Memorial Service is being held on Saturday, May 5. Invitations will be mailed to families who have had a child die in the last two years by the end of March.

For more information phone (612-813-7216) or email [email protected].

If you are unable to attend, but would like more information about Children’s grief counseling services, visit our Chaplaincy information page.

Parent comments about Chaplaincy  at Children’s Hospital are welcome here!

Setting up child life services in India: Meeting Nischit

March is National Child Life Month, which honors those in the Child Life profession. It’s the perfect opportunity to continue our spotlight on Jeanine Clapsaddle. Jeanine is a Child Life specialist from Children’s who is in India for two months to help set up Child Life services at Manipal Hospital.

Jeanine’s trip is in partnership with the Priyanka Foundation, which was established to fulfill the dying wish of a former Children’s patient who wanted other kids around the world to get the same care she received. Jeanine is documenting her experiences through this blog series.

This is the third report from her trip:


The two students I am training here have been working in the hospital for nearly a year, providing patients with opportunities for normative play.  They have a well-established rapport with patients and families who identify them by that all too familiar title; the play lady. Patients, parents and staff alike have all identified the immense impact these women and their toys have had on the healthcare experience.

On my first day at Manipal, I met a nearly 4 year old boy named Nischit, who is four months into treatment for leukemia. During the initial portion of his visit to the outpatient clinic for labs, and chemotherapy, he clung to his mother, was tearful and apprehensive. He cried through his port accessing, labs and related cares.

Although he was slow to warm up to the toys and chose items that were intended for a much younger child, he was able to quietly engage in play after some time. This was a consistent response for Nischit during subsequent sessions despite attempts to engage him in distraction during his port accessing.

When the new toys I had sent from the U.S. arrived, I had the Child Life Practitioner working with him put a play doctor kit among the toys that he was able to choose from. Although he responded to the cares as he had in the past, Nischit was curious about the medical play kit, and opted to engage in play sooner than he had previously.

Over the next several visits to the hospital, Nischit became captivated by the doctor kit. He was quickly able to develop mastery of the medical toys, generalize the toys to his own experience, compare the play equipment with the real equipment, and not only model how the equipment works, but his role in the process.  He has successfully ‘treated’ his mother, the stuffed duck that tags along with the medical kit, and all the staff that care for him.

When I come to observe the sessions with Nischit now, he actively engages in distraction for his port accessing and is eager to play when the ‘work’ is over. His mood is more stable.  He has become quite talkative and he displays better resilience to unexpected stressors, such as hospital admission due to fever.

Today he was able to tell the student, “I come for chee-bee-chee (CBC) test.” In all honesty, seeing this smiling face with cheeks puffy from steroids try and spit out CBC test, particularly knowing how much he struggled with his cares just a short time ago, is almost too much for me.

Nischit will always stand out as a prime example of why I became a Child Life Specialist and why I came to India. Surviving and thriving can be part of the same experience, and I believe the aim of Child Life is to diminish the gap that exists between them.

The young girl, for whom the Priyanka Foundation is named, knew this. She saw it first hand when she visited India.  Children were surviving, certainly.  Thriving throughout their treatment was less likely.

I continue to feel incredibly honored to be living Priyanka’s vision and helping to spread the work of Child Life through this teaching endeavor.

Jeanine Clapsaddle
Child Life Specialist
Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota


The first report from her trip can be read here.
The second report from her trip can be read here.

Rock the Cradle 2012

MPR photo / Eamon Coyne

Last Sunday, Children’s partnered with 89.3 The Current to present Rock the Cradle 2012. This day of family fun saw over 15,000 people, young and old, pack the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Children’s Theatre Company for a day of live music, dancing, storytelling and a community art project.

What a great day it was! Research has shown that the arts, both making and enjoying, can positively impact cognitive, motor, language and social-emotional development. We were so happy to be part of such a great event that promotes the importance of creativity and the arts for our community’s children.

If you weren’t able to attend, there are plenty of places to see photos and videos from the event:

Thanks to everyone who attended.