In Italy more than one million children are hospitalized every year. The stay of the child in hospital is a delicate and sometimes deeply suffered phase, during which the patient and parents cannot be left alone.
Advice from experts to parents
When illness enters a child's life, it also enters the life of his whole family. Parents' attitudes play a decisive role in the care of their child: they must make an effort not to pass on their concerns to the child.
The Onlus "Amici del Bambino Malato" (ABM) has drawn up a list of reminders to guide the patient's parents through the illness, including:
- Explain to the child in words appropriate to his or her age and cognitive abilities why he or she should be hospitalized;
- Stay in the hospital with the child as long as possible;
- Be informed in advance about the organisation and regulations of the child's ward;
- Bring the child's favourite toys or books to the hospital;
- Be involved in decisions regarding medical treatment;
- Ensure that the child is not admitted to adult wards;
- Allow your child free access to play and study areas suitable for their age;
- Never talk to the doctor or family members about the illness in presence of the child.
Charter of the rights of the child in hospital
In 2014, the Bambino Gesù Hospital in Rome drew up and signed the Charter of the Rights of the Child in Hospital with the Association of Italian Paediatric Hospitals (AOPI).
The Charter enshrines fifteen macro-categories of fundamental rights, which the patient and parents must know.
Hospital therapies in support of medical care
Palliative care in the medical field is indispensable in the healing process of young patients. Italy has recognized the importance of palliative care in pediatric age with Law 38/2010.
The cognitive survey conducted in 2019 by the Social Affairs Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, however, shows that there are delays in its implementation.
Nevertheless, many innovative therapies are applied in Italian hospitals today.
- Clown therapy
No one better than Dr. Patch Adams could explain the goal of this therapy: "I have reached the conclusion that humor is vital to heal the problems of individuals, communities and societies. (...) "Funny" meant good, happy, blessed, lucky, kind and joyful. Wearing a rubber nose wherever I go changed my life."
- Pet therapy
In the presence of pets, patients' heartbeats stabilize and anxieties and fears of invasive examinations or treatment diminish.
- Guided Imagination
The child is invited to imagine a secret place, known or invented. This reduces pre-operative anxiety and post-operative pain.
- Play therapy
It is the game in the playroom, but it has also proved effective to engage children in the care of a garden. This therapy reduces stress and guarantees the right to remain children even during the hospital stay.
- The Paediatric Hospice
It is a very similar environment to that of a normal home, but equipped with high diagnostic and therapeutic equipment. Here the families are followed all the time by specialized operators.
Volunteering: the organizations
Volunteers are people who dedicate part of their time to assisting hospitalized children and/or their families.
To get closer to hospital volunteering is possible:
- To support a voluntary organization
For example, through a donation.
- To become a volunteer
It is usually required the payment of a small participation and possibly registration fee. It is necessary to follow a training course which is often followed by a period of internship alongside already active volunteers. Each volunteer is asked to be available for a predetermined shift and to attend the organisation's meetings. For volunteers already in service, refresher courses are provided. More precise information can be found on the website of the specific association or foundation.
The most active hospital volunteer organisation for minors is the ABIO Foundation, which has also launched the label "Hospital at the height of children" with which hospitals are assessed by a special Commission according to criteria of: reception and support, children, adolescents and family rights, continuity of care and integration, specificity of care.
Covid-19: What's changed?
The spread of Covid-19 and the restrictive measures adopted by the Italian government to limit it have conditioned - and are conditioning - all those voluntary associations operating in the medical-health sector.
The ABIO Foundation, for example, since February, has already indicated to all Italian ABIO Associations to suspend the shifts of volunteers and to follow the instructions received from the Health Directorates of Hospitals.
Outside hospitals, volunteers created and published special content on social media to remotely support children and their families, especially those still in hospital. Using the hashtags #ABIOanchedalontano and #ABIOadistanza tutorials for homework, fairy tales and shared riddles can be found on the Associations' Facebook and Instagram pages and on the ABIO Foundation's Facebook page.
Like ABIO, many other organizations have also identified social media as a means of relieving young patients and their families of the burden of distance and isolation, while waiting for a return to normality.
Training and refresher courses continue to be held, but online.
Translated by Francesca Cioffi
Original version by Rebecca Scaglia