Esther Huang
Esther Huang

If you’ve ever had to take a child to the hospital – your own, a niece, a nephew – chances are you were scared. Maybe you didn’t know what to expect, or feared that your child wouldn’t understand what was going on. Maybe you were anxious yourself, and didn’t know how to explain the situation.

In this and many other scenarios, is exactly where Esther comes in.

A Certified Child & Life Specialist, Esther has spent her career working with children and adolescents to promote coping and reduce fear and anxiety related to hospital experiences. Esther holds a very unique and growing role in community hospitals, having graduated from McMaster University’s post-graduate program in Child Life Paediatric Psychosocial Care when it was the only program of its kind in Canada. In her clinical work, she supports children and young people and prepares them for medical procedures, while working collaboratively with nurses and doctors to develop a care plan. “Kids” she says “learn through play. We play with the medical equipment in a safe way to give a child the opportunity to deconstruct the ‘scary’ parts.” For example, ‘painting’ with and using a child safe syringe could help desensitize a young patient to medical equipment. For an older patient, she might guide them in a relaxation session, or get out her Virtual Reality goggles for a doctor approved field trip!

“Another part of working with paediatric families, is knowing that kids belong to families. You can’t just support the child. This job is the essence of family-centered care.”

Whether working with a toddler in the Paediatric Ambulatory Clinic, children with special needs, or a new mom in Labour & Delivery, Esther’s work empowers patients to feel in control and develop a sense of mastery when facing medical procedures – it also involves supporting the patient’s family. Pre-COVID Esther worked with siblings of babies in the NICU crafting and “memory making” to help them feel involved, or alongside parents as they prepared to explain a diagnosis to their children.

In addition to her clinical work, Esther collaborates on quality improvement projects related to patient experience, and policy changes that incorporate a Child Life lens. In every aspect of her work, she helps children and families cope with the stressors that are ahead of them.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, Esther’s programming requires a lot of craft supplies! For years now, the generosity of Foundation donors has fully funded Child Life activities at North York General Hospital. This means having toys and games to play with in the Paediatric Inpatient Unit, this month’s “1st Halloween” onesies for babies in the NICU, and for long-term care patients, a chance to be in control of what therapeutic art activity they would like to do that day, outside of their diagnosis.

This year, Esther is determined “not to let COVID stop the holidays from happening in the hospital.” While staff would usually be preparing for a toy drive and various special events, this year things will undoubtedly look a bit different. Despite this, Esther is putting together a programming holiday wish list and will continue to do whatever she can to facilitate special events and make sure every child in the hospital has a gift this holiday season.

“The way we support children should be different than how we support adults, because what they need and understand is different. There’s just so much you can do with kids to help them cope with hospitalization.”

To find out how you can contribute to supporting the Child Life program at North York General Hospital, email foundation@nygh.on.caor call 416-756-6944.