Small changes for a better future

Hospital stays can be scary times for both children and their parents, regardless of age and experience. New people, strange equipment and an unfamiliar environment are a lot to take in. While world-class specialists work to heal every patient at the RCH, the impact of these procedures on a child’s mental health is only now being understood.

“For babies, normal development is hard in a hospital environment. Wires and tubes attached to the body means cradling and nursing a baby isn’t always possible,” said Associate Professor Brigid Jordan, Paediatric Social Worker at the RCH. “Understanding how hospital stays impact a patient’s mental health is really important to ensuring the best possible outcomes for the future”.

Brigid has been working in infant mental health for over 30 years and now thanks to support from the RCH Auxiliaries, she is able to transfer her knowledge to clinicians throughout the hospital ensuring the best possible outcomes for some of Victoria’s sickest children. Starting with nurses on Koala and Cockatoo wards, Brigid is working to educate over 100 team members to identify early warning signs and minimise patient risk by thinking about mental health in every aspect of their work.

Using the latest evidence on infant memory, emotional development and behavioural responses to stress, Brigid’s work focuses on upskilling clinicians to consider the mental health impact of every procedure and interaction they have with a child. Implementing small changes in processes and communications with their patients can have lasting positive impacts for all. Nurse support also extends to families, as parents play a key role in the child’s development and comfort in hospital. Having a child in the hospital can be emotionally overwhelming for parents, especially when that child is very sick. Brigid is working with RCH Nurses to identify potential impaired parent–child attachment relationships and use opportunities in their nursing care to support those families to overcome these challenges and develop strong relationships.

“Warning signs can be different for each child, and range from one child’s strong protests to treatment, to another’s submissive acceptance of procedures,” said Brigid. “My goal is that mental health for every child is on the radar of every consultant and every clinician at the RCH.”

The 18 month pilot program which launched in early 2017 has been funded by Roxburgh Park, Southern Rainbows, South Western and Templestowe Auxiliaries, and the President’s Fundraising Network, and is already producing some great results.

“It’s been brilliant how receptive and engaged the nurses have been to learning about mental health. I would like to thank the RCH Auxiliaries for their support, without which this project would not have been possible,” said Brigid.