Helen & Douglas House is well-known for the respite care we provide to babies, children and teenagers and the support we give to their families. However, our care often extends further than respite, with play therapy also being offered. This type of extended care not only assists with child development, socialisation and confidence, but also helps families to make special memories together even when it may seem difficult or impossible.
Recently, our Helen & Douglas House play team took three families out on a boat trip on the River Thames. It was a fun opportunity for the children to experience a totally new adventure and an activity they would not usually be able to access due to their limited mobility. Hannah and Becky from the care team took the families out on the adventure on the water, with the purpose to give the children and their families the chance to experience a different environment outside of their daily routine. Despite wet weather, whilst on the boat they got the chance to try steering the boat, becoming captains for the day. They also had chance to spot wildlife on the river and experience something they usually would only have chance to see from the safety of dry land!
Prior to the trip, the play team had to carefully plan and research the accessibility as some of the children have wheelchairs. Whilst on the trip, they also had to make sure they had enough staff to help to look after the children in order to give the parents a chance to also enjoy the trip. It is important for play therapy to be varied and offer different types of experiences such as the boat trip as a new environment will offer a variety of sensory experiences where there are new sights, sounds, textures, tastes and aromas that animate the senses and give the children stimulation outside of the familiar.
‘Play therapy experiences like this allows families to have precious time together experiencing something different’. Hannah, Care Team
Families and play therapy
These type of experiences are essential for families to making new fun memories together and enhancing the short lives of the children we care for at the hospice. Mum Carolina, from Tilehurst, came on the boat adventure with her triplet daughter Hannah who is six years old. Hannah comes to Helen & Douglas House for respite visits and was invited to come on the boat trip with her two triplet sisters, Mum and Dad.
The whole family got a chance to come on the trip and enjoyed their day on the boat, with Mum Carolina saying ‘It felt great knowing that Hannah could share the boat experience with her sisters. The crew were amazing and it despite some rather rainy weather, we all had a fabulous time.’
As Hannah is in a wheelchair, and her Mum and Dad also have the other two triplets to look after, Mum said it is often a struggle to go out for the day on a trip that caters for them all as a family. Because of this they often become a divided family; with Dad going out with Hannah’s sisters for the day and Mum having to take Hannah somewhere different that caters for their access requirements. She said that it is often difficult to find the right facilities and activities to cater for all of them at the same time.
Carolina also told us that she had assumed boat trips like the one they went on would be inaccessible or too complicated to arrange for them all, so it was so beneficial of the play team finding out for them that it is possible and that it didn’t feel complicated.
Carolina also told us about what Helen & Douglas House means to them; ‘Helen & Douglas House is a lifeline for us. We are able to access so much and feel like a whole family. I particularly love being close to Hannah but not having to be on duty. Her sisters love the House so much and always talk about coming back. Hannah sleeps well and is content and happy.’
About play therapy
The hospice at Helen & Douglas House has a range of care team members and nurses, each with separate responsibilities. The Play team are an essential part of the team and organise in-house and external activities that are appropriate to each child’s needs, age, ability and mobility. They like to bring fun into the play activities which can help with child development and enjoyment. Previous activities that they have done include arts and crafts, music sessions, animal therapy visits, themed sessions and trips out which include visits to local farms, the ice rink, cinema trips and even shopping.
Last year the play team went on a trip to Millets Farm with children Nathan and Mia, this got the children used to different surroundings and meeting other people outside of the hospice. A member of the public who met the group whilst at Millets also rang up afterwards to praise the staff on how good it was to see them interacting with the children.
A play specialist provides the activities to encourage creativity, exploration and learning, as well as creating special memories for the child and moments they can share with their whole family. The activities we are able to do are possible due to the kind donations we receive to help to pay for these activities. Sometimes a donation may be from a parent or family member paying for several sessions of animal therapy or even a local company donating an experience to the play team. This means that they are able to continue to offer new and exciting experiences for the children and their families.