Thanks to support from the Victorian community and the Good Friday Appeal, the Chronic Illness Peer Support (ChIPS) program at The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) has been working to improve the lives of young people aged 12-25 living with a chronic illness for nearly 30 years.
The innovative program offers 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 includes organised social activities and highly-anticipated camps twice a year, with the overall aim to develop peer networks, social skills and increase abilities in illness self-management and general life skills.
Harry Brown, ChIPS Program manager, began as a volunteer music mentor for a ChIPS music project in 2014. “I began volunteering on camps. At the time I was working at the RCH as a Physiotherapy Assistant. Through this volunteer work I discovered a real passion for working with young people and was lucky enough to start working for ChIPS in late 2016 as a facilitator,” said Harry.
“What excites me most about working for ChIPS is the focus on empowering young people. Through ChIPS they have opportunities to do things they may not be able to do without the program’s support, to develop and grow as leaders, and I am honoured to be a part of their journey,” he added.
ChIPS committee member Haylee is a social butterfly and after hearing about the ChIPS program, decided to join. “I love to talk to people and thought, that would be cool, as I only have a small group of friends with chronic illnesses,” said Haylee.
“I thought to myself, this would be quite interesting, especially when I heard that they have camps and you can go along with doctors and nurses. This was important to me because of my extensive medical care needs,” she added.
One of Haylee’s highlights from her time as a ChIPPER is the increase she has noticed in her confidence.
“I am more independent because I can do my own medical care now. I am more confident catching the train to ChIPS events. Now, I’m more comfortable living with a chronic illness because I used to limit myself a lot, but ChIPS has taught me that I didn’t need to and there are other ways around it,” she said.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the ChIPS team adapted, continuing to offer a space for youth to come together online, with the social committee running a number of virtual events during 2020 and 2021. The much loved ChIPS camp was hosted online in 2021, consisting of multiple activities over two weeks in the school holidays including a Netflix party, AFL finals chats and a live, online concert.
Since June 2022, and the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, ChIPS has been slowly reintroducing face to face events, which included an outing to Melbourne Zoo.