Acknowledging that real heroes don't always wear capes, a children's hospital has launched a Health Hero Training Academy which incorporates therapeutic play, drama, games and psychological therapy to celebrate the strength and abilities of its young patients.
“Due to their illnesses children frequently overcome pain and challenges such as missing school and friends, so we chose to celebrate the strength they show in never giving up,” explained Tara Shea, Play Team Lead at The Royal London Hospital.
The play team and paediatric liaison team are working with Chickenshed Theatre, an inclusive theatre company, to hold regular day workshops supported with funding from the Health Foundation. Children are given the opportunity to discuss the challenges they face in living with chronic physical health conditions, as well as the strategies they use to manage, in order to promote their psychological wellbeing and build peer relationships.
There are two versions of the group, a Superhero Training Academy for children aged 6-11 years, and a Modern Day Hero Training Academy for young people aged 12-17 years.
After spending the morning developing preferred hero identities based on their strengths and abilities, the children and young people work with Chickenshed Theatre to build on these further through song, drama and play. They perform as a group to their parents and healthcare providers, graduating as official Health Heroes in a ceremony where they are awarded capes or key chains, and certificates.
The workshops also involve supporting parents and carers through a therapeutic group session, and as well as the children and young people naming their own ‘super powers’ - such as courage, creativity and kindness – they also tell their parents and carers why they are their heroes, for example providing them with comfort, love and reassurance.
Tara continued: “Our young patients and their parents achieve small acts of greatness every day; each one is a hero.
“At the Health Hero Training Academy we celebrate what makes our patients different to other children, and identify their strengths as their super powers. It’s a really fun and new approach, with a serious message aiming to boost their confidence in the real world.”
Robbie, who is eleven years old and from Oxford, was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma five years ago. He attended a Health Heroes Training Academy in April, commenting: "Today was good for my confidence. The best bit was making friends with other children who have health conditions and talking to each other about it."
Erin, Robbie’s mother, added: “This has been the first time in five years since Robbie was diagnosed that we have been around other children and parents. Robbie has had fun, and it has been good for me to speak to other parents and share ways to cope.”
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NOTES TO EDITORS
Barts Health NHS Trust
With a turnover of £1.4 billion and a workforce of around 16,000, Barts Health is the largest NHS trust in the country, and one of Britain’s leading healthcare providers. The Trust’s five hospitals – St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City, including the Barts Heart Centre, The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, Newham University Hospital in Plaistow, Whipps Cross University Hospital in Leytonstone and Mile End – deliver high quality compassionate care to the 2.5 million people of East London and beyond.