Meet Keshia, a Community Health Play Specialist

We fund Keshia’s role as a community health play specialist at the Whittington Trust, as part of the Life Force palliative care team. Here’s what she has to say about her job and why it’s so important…

“No one day is ever the same. No one second is ever the same. You can have a plan for your day, but the likelihood is, it’s not going to go that way. That’s what I like about it, always keeps you on your toes. My visits will consist of going to hospitals, homes, sometimes even schools, to see the children I work with.

“I’m in the palliative and end of life team and our main objective is to give some form of normality. Palliative does not mean an imminent death; they could be palliative until they’re in the 30s or beyond. What I do is I give experiences and opportunities that allow them to be in tune with their senses. A lot of touch and feel, hand massages, things to relax.

“I can’t change their situation and I can’t change their diagnosis, but I can offer opportunities that enhance where they’re at and meet their needs. With most of my patients being non-verbal, I’m not going to have a talking conversation with them, but I can offer opportunities where they can express themselves. A lot of the work I do with my patients is sensory based with some calming storytelling and interactions.

Play is a tool that can be used for explanations, clarity, comfort and for distraction.

We hear children and young people’s voices the loudest during play, not because they’re shouting, but because they’re at a point where they’re comfortable that they have the freedom to tell you everything they feel.

“Play specialists and workers bring that out of children because we’re able to get the emotions, get the understanding, get clarity, and that’s why our role is so important. We aren’t miracle workers, but we can help the process along. Play helps with understanding and reassurance which is what a lot of children and young people are looking for.

“Play isn’t just about toys; as health play specialists, we are facilitators as well as advocates for our patients, for our families and for our profession. We have great relationships with our families and patients and by the time we’ve worked with them through their journey, we have a better understanding of them. Because of that, we’re best placed to voice their opinions, we’re advocating all the time and we’re trusting that our voice is being heard for our families.

“We see all kinds of conditions, meaning play isn’t tied to any specific diagnosis and can therefore be used to explain, explore, prepare and distract our children and young people for the journey ahead of them. This will allow the children and young people the space to make sense of her diagnosis, be heard and share their emotions.”

If we didn’t have health play specialists, our children and young people might have a negative view on the health environment due to the traumas they would have experienced, as well as not having their voices heard and being rushed without a clear understanding of what to expect. There would be a greater need for general anaesthetics, delaying procedures and treatments, in turn costing the NHS more money.