ChIPS program embraces technology to stay connected

If there’s one thing that teenagers are good with, it’s technology. So when The Royal Children’s Hospital’s vibrant patient social network, the Chronic Illness Peer Support (ChIPS) Program, had to cancel their regular schedule of events in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t long before the group had a long list of ways they could use technology to keep in touch.

Before the pandemic, the comprehensive ChIPs program, made possible thanks to your support, offered young people (known as ChIPPERS) the opportunity to connect with each other and explore their illness experience through music, art, games and discussions in small group sessions. The program also included organised social activities and highly-anticipated camps twice a year.

With the program model centred on meeting together in person, ChIPS program manager Meagan Hunt and her team had to postpone all activities in line with the government’s social distancing restrictions and to keep patients and their families safe during this time.

“The initial situation had caused a lot of anxiety for ChIPPERS as many of them have vulnerable immunities and had to remain house-bound,” said Meagan.

“The ChIPS program is important to our ChIPPERS, so we have adapted to make sure they can maintain their connection with the program and friendships with each other.”

Making a quick and seamless pivot to utilise technology, ChIPPERS are now meeting weekly with program facilitators over Zoom for informal ‘ChIPS chats’ which Megan notes have seen high attendance and engagement. Meeting online has had its additional benefits as ChIPPERS living regionally or have previously been too sick to attend in person now have the chance to stay connected and involved.

“We’ve been very impressed with how the ChIPPERS, especially the peer leaders, have been taking the lead on staying connected and keeping their spirits up. They have been coming up with great creative ideas including running online trivia and bingo sessions, holding Netflix movie-watching parties and starting photo challenges,” said Meagan.

Not knowing when they can meet again face-to-face, the ChIPS program and its ChIPPERS are proving resilient as they continue to empower and support each other through these uncertain times.