Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: My role as a Children’s Care Assistant
For over six years, Sam Politt has been a Children’s Care Assistant at ellenor. Friends ask her how she copes with her challenging, sometimes emotional work – especially given that she’s got a nine-year-old daughter herself. She says, “My role is to look after children who, despite illness, are most often cheeky, smiley and bouncy – just like every child is. We don’t know what’s around the corner – but we do all know we’re here today and we can make the most of it.”
Sam’s role is varied and it has certainly changed in recent months, Covid has meant she’s had to turn her hand to all sorts of things.
“I’ve actually been answering the phones for ellenor’s admin team recently and that’s something I’ve never tried before!” Generally, though, her day starts with meeting with others in her team of four, plus the nursing team – led by their manager, Rebecca – to discuss caseloads. “It’s our job to work together to highlight anything at all we need to be aware of when it comes to looking after those in our care,” says Sam. “It could be anything from a change in circumstances that has implications for their medical treatment, such as an emergency trip to hospital – to awareness of an upcoming birthday. We always consider the impact things may have on the wider family too.”
There are usually about 70-80 children on ellenor’s casebook at any one time – but they won’t all be patients. “Sometimes we help out families where it’s the parent who’s ill,” says Sam. “In those instances, it may be helpful if I can take the children out of the home, so the parents can just relax. Similarly, in families with several children, I’ve kept the healthy children busy and occupied, so that Mums and Dads can enjoy vital one-on-one time with the child who’s sick.”
Whoever she’s looking after and whatever the situation, Sam will often arrive at their home armed with a ‘box of tricks’ – the sort of toys that are likely to stimulate the child in her care. “We’ll always have asked parents in advance what sort of toys and activities their children enjoy, but we’ll come with plenty of our own suggestions, too. With profoundly disabled children, sensory play can make a real difference, so I may have light-emitting toys, water-based toys – anything that’s likely to engage them. As well as play, I might be bathing the children or feeding them – something that’s second nature to me, not just because I’m a mum myself but because I was a nanny for 15 years. We have full training on the nature of any drug a child is given, and we know absolutely as Children’s Care Assistants what we are and aren’t qualified to do. We will always call in the nurses if we have any doubts or questions – that’s why it’s so essential that we’re all such a tight team.”
Covid has of course put home visits on hold, along with the clubs that run regularly at ellenor. “We usually have Friday Fun Club for four children aged under five. They’re looked after by us on a one-to-one basis – it’s all about play, but it’s actually very carefully structured to ensure children are as stimulated as much as possible – lots of different textures for them to feel, water sprays to make them giggle – those sorts of things. We run a similar Junior Kids’ Club in the school holidays for older children, too, to give parents an additional break.
Something else offered by the team is respite care. “We’ve just been able to restart this post-lockdown, which is brilliant, as we know how vital it is. Some parents may be dealing with more than one child with, say, a life-limiting genetic condition – or their children may need care throughout the night, leaving parents exhausted. Just our being there to take the children off their hands so they can sleep really can be life-changing for families.”
In her work with families, Sam is very aware not only of its importance to them but of the sense of perspective it brings to her own life, too. “Covid has made us all aware of how difficult life can be for some of us. I’m used to working with families whose lives may have been extremely difficult for years. We aim to help them have easier times together as often as possible, building good memories wherever we can. It’s a real privilege to be a part of that process”.
We want to continue being there for children living with cancer. Please donate whatever you can towards our vital work: www.ellenor.org/donate