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BLOG: Our job is child's play

February 8, 2019

Sue Keenan and her playmaker team are dedicated to making sure every child gets the chance to play, no matter how poorly they are.   

Parents of life-limited and life-threatened children are used to hearing about what their child cannot do. At Julia’s House our focus is on what a child CAN do - smiles, laughter and achievements, no matter how small are all celebrated. We want to build up a library of positives.  

There are now four of us in the team covering Dorset and Wiltshire, at  hospice sessions and home visits, working with parents and the rest of the care team.  Our simple message is that children should not just be at the heart of a play plan, but actively part of the process.

Every child has a voice and it is our job to find that voice so that children are able to make choices. They might communicate through the blink of an eye or the flick of their little finger but if I hold up two toys and a child is able to indicate which one they want, it instantly gives them the control. By tuning in to what a child loves we are able to empower them and massively enhance what they get out of each play session.

Every child at Julia’s House has an individual play plan. The Playmakers visit families at home to carry out an assessment and then write up a tailored plan that helps them use play for fun, but also for reaching goals like helping a child’s development, or making something medical seem a less scary.

Each family receives a red spotty fabric bag containing specialist toys and a simple step-by-step guide. It’s perfectly pitched play in a bag. Not one of our play plans could be used by another child – each one is unique to the child it supports.

I was doing a plan plan for a little girl who was thought to be visually impaired. No-one really knew how much, if anything, she could see. I decorated a purple umbrella with sparkling tinsel and white lights and slowly moved the umbrella over her head.

She was lying down underneath it and was suddenly transfixed by the sparkly movement. I began to twirl the umbrella at the same time as moving it backwards and forwards across her head. Her eyes tracked and followed the lights and as her head turned to follow it all the way she smiled!

That was the moment when me and her daddy realised she definitely could see – and boy did she like what she saw. It was a very special moment.

Our signature red spotty bags are even becoming recognisable outside the charity. One mum had to dash off to hospital with her child but remembered to grab the play bag. A nurse at the hospital said:” Oooh, a red spotty bag! You must be from Julia’s House – we can use the bag to play in here, too!”

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