Whether it is a brief visit or a long-term stay, a child’s time at UNC Children’s affects the whole family. Parents with more than one child have to make difficult decisions on how they spend their time. Parents must decide whether to stay by the side of their hospitalized child or leave to take care of their other child or children at home. These difficult choices ultimately force families and support systems to separate during a very stressful time. During flu season, non-patient children are restricted from accessing patient areas making it impossible for families to remain together.

UNC Children’s Rehabilitation Manager Keith Compson and a team of Child Life Specialists are working together to help alleviate the stress that accompanies having a hospitalized child.  The team is preparing to offer a pilot program of structured psychosocial support for siblings of UNC Children’s patients.  Their ultimate goal is to provide parents and caregivers with a support system that allows families to remain together. An important outcome of this program is to allow parents to be present, dedicating attention and focus on discussions with the care team, with the comfort of knowing that their other children are close by, safe, and well taken care of. This would also add tremendous value to nursing units by helping to increase parental visitation.

Compson and his team are passionate about this project and helping families successfully navigate having a hospitalized child. He sees the next step in sibling support services as providing a space for siblings. Several Child Life Specialists have visited the Lemieux Sibling Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, seen as one of the leading programs for sibling support. Finding a dedicated room or area at UNC Hospitals, where space is at a premium, is perhaps the biggest obstacle Compson and his colleagues face in reaching their goal. For a sibling center to work at UNC Children’s, it would need to be “front and center”—a space where siblings can go before they enter the patient care area. Otherwise, siblings would face the same flu restriction rules currently keeping them (and, as a result, their parents) out of the hospital. Compson is optimistic about the prospect of creating a sibling area because of the impact it would have on patient care. A lack of sibling support is a barrier to parents being with their sick child—a barrier that emerges at a time when the child needs his or her parents most.

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