There’s nothing quite like seeing the joy on children’s faces when they open that new toy they’ve been longing for on Christmas morning. All of the excitement, anticipation, hoping and praying have boiled down to this moment – and, at last, the toy is theirs!
After tearing open the gift-wrapping, fighting to get it out of the cumbersome packaging and completing any required set-up, the play begins! It’s time to check out that first patient with a new toy doctor’s kit, dress up that new dolly or take those shiny new dinkies on an adventure around the living room.
We all know how much fun this type of play can be; but did you know that there are many health and therapeutic benefits of play for children?
Play is a child’s work
According to the Janeway Family Centre, playing in a creative way is shown to have positive effects on early childhood learning and development including language, physical, cognitive and social development.
Particularly, play is vital for children facing emotional, mental health, social and behavioural challenges in their lives. Since children and youth don’t often respond to verbal therapy, play offers a means through which they are able to learn, resolve issues and reach healing.
As such, toys and therapeutic materials are invaluable tools for anyone working with children and youth in a mental health capacity. Toys help clinicians connect with young people and, therefore, help them provide the best possible treatment to their young patients.
In recent years, clinicians, social workers and therapists outside of hospital settings in Newfoundland and Labrador have brought to Eastern Health’s attention the unique challenges they face when working with children and youth, including:
- seeing them in an adult-focused office;
- travelling between sites and communities;
- working with them in their homes; and
- responding to their needs following crises.
Filling the toy-gap
Recognizing the specific needs of young people along with the clinicians’ issues, Eastern Health’s employees of the Janeway Family Centre came up with a creative solution – mobile therapy-to-go kits. These colourful suitcases are filled with therapeutic games, activities and toys such as dolls, dishes, play food, doll houses, tool kits, doctor’s kits and portable sand boxes!
Storing the items in a suitcase gives clinicians the mobility to use the items not only in their offices, but also when going into the community to work with and treat children at different sites or even in a child’s home.
Thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Janeway Children’s Hospital Foundation, Eastern Health was able to develop 50 kits to be distributed to clinicians in communities across our province, from Labrador City and Natuashish to Port aux Basques and Stephenville to Clarenville, Bonavista and many places in between.
“The Janeway Children’s Hospital Foundation was created to raise funds to benefit both the physical and mental health care of Newfoundland and Labrador children,” said Lynn Sparkes, executive director of the Janeway Children’s Hospital Foundation.
“By investing in pediatric mental health, we are building a brighter, more productive future for these children and their families,” she added.
Once the grant was secured this past June, staff at the Janeway Family Centre got to work developing the kits and selecting the toys!
As word of this project spread, community groups also stepped forward to offer assistance. A group of Girl Guides assembled a collection of therapeutic materials; seamstresses from the Parish of the Good Sheppard constructed portable sandboxes; and individual seamstresses and the Newfoundland Quilters’ Guild produced lovely hand-knit doll clothing and blankets.
Santa comes early
Finally, after months of planning and hard work, our busy elves at the Janeway Family Centre, along with community supporters, got together to assemble the kits. At a make-shift Santa’s workshop at the Dr. L. A. Miller Centre in St. John’s, they filled the therapy-to-go kits with toys and other therapeutic materials that will help boys and girls throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.
To us, and clinicians who work with children throughout the province, it truly feels like Santa has come early. They are so appreciative of the kits and their response has been incredible.
“Thank you so much for choosing me as a recipient for this kit! I am so excited about how much I will get to use this as I struggle each week trying to come up with therapeutic toys to use with children, especially in the outreach clinics I do every week. It will be so, so helpful and wonderful for me and the many children I work with.”
– Meagan Thorne, clinician, Harbour Grace
“The therapy-to-go kits will help in our interventions with children and strengthening our relationships with them, as well as using the kits to strengthen parent-child interactions during visitation. The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services will be sharing the kits with other community service providers working with children. In an isolated community, the kits will be a valuable tool which will be accessible to all professionals in the community, where there are limited services.”
– Barbara Coffey, clinician, Natuashish
“Thanks so much Janeway Family Centre! This makes me feel like I forgot someone who should have been on my Christmas list. They showed up with a gift for me but I had nothing in return.”
– Wanda Green, clinician, Clarenville
A Christmas present for Eastern Health
The Janeway Family Centre noted that they are delighted with the response so far!
According to Donna Ronan, a social worker with the centre, “the reaction has strengthened our commitment to doing all that we can to facilitate and enhance the accessibility of mental health services for children, youth and families.”
For the employees of the centre, including Donna, the true gift of this initiative will come long after the shiny, new feeling of the toys has come and gone and the suitcases have seen more than a few miles on the road. Their reward will come when therapy-to-go kits become an integrated part of each clinician’s everyday routine when working with children and youth. ■
This story was written by Tracey Boland, a communications manager at Eastern Health, with support from Donna Ronan, a social worker with Eastern Health’s Janeway Family Centre.