I have really enjoyed getting to know some of the families at Texas Children’s Hospital this month! It’s been enlightening to hear firsthand how parents and caregivers are coping with the everyday stressors of having a child who is “different” in some way. Though I expected caregivers in the groups to support one another, I didn’t realize how much I would gain from being a facilitator. With every piece of insight offered, I had the chance to learn what’s working for these parents, what is difficult, and how the hospital can do better. I’m excited to see what the next month of groups brings!
I expected my project to change throughout the year, but I did not foresee quite this much change. The good news is that now, instead of serving a single population (parents of children with cleft lip and palate), I am additionally reaching out to parents of children with spina bifida and craniosynostosis. This new involvement with other populations means that I get to learn about the needs of the parents while they communicate with each other about how to best support one another. Starting in November and for the duration of the Fellowship, I am facilitating weekly support groups for parents of children with spina bifida, bimonthly support groups for parents of children with craniosynostosis, and needs assessments for the support of parents of children with cleft lip and palate. I can’t wait to learn more about all of the families!
What a difference connections can make! I was so fortunate to build a relationship with a couple of innovate professionals at Texas Children’s Hospital this month after being connected through Fellow Maggie Raber. Not only were the people I met with interested in my project, but they also wanted to help me to make the project bigger, better, and more sustainable. While the project has been slow getting off the ground, I feel better knowing that there are people behind this project who can greatly influence the reach of this service.
Sometimes I am reminded that I need to take a step back before I move forward. We have been reminded during the fellowship and in my classes that, as helping professionals, we need to be cautious about entering a community and assuming that we know what the members of that community want or need. This month, as I began meeting parents of children born with cleft lip and/or palate in the clinical setting and talking to the pediatric surgeon on the cleft team, I realized that I needed to ask the parents what they want directly before creating a program that might not be beneficial. My goal is to help the parents in the most impactful way I can, and my peers and colleagues have reassured me that the best way to do so is to ask the people I want to help. I have put together a survey and focus group outline that should give me a much better understanding of what the need is before I move forward with implementing a (hopefully) effective program.
August was a really exciting month in the fellowship, both because of progress with my project and because of the social/professional component of the fellowship. I attended a couple of fellowship events and was particularly inspired by the site mentors I met at the Mentor Mixer. It’s truly a privilege to be in a room with so many professionals who are determined to make a difference through their careers. Though most people at the mixer were not social workers, I felt that we all shared a common passion for service. As I spoke with the mentors, I found myself hoping that one day I too will have a fraction of the knowledge, network, and influence they all have within the world of healthcare as they seek to make life better for underserved groups.
As I move closer and closer to my Texas Children’s Hospital internship start date in August, I am becoming both more excited and more nervous to begin the project. I realize that, though my site and academic mentors are supportive of my project, I will soon need to lobby for buy-in from other cleft team members at TCH. In August, we will record our “elevator speeches” in order to perfect the way in which we communicate the purpose and goals of our projects to others, and I am hopeful that I will produce a speech that can quickly and effectively captivate my audience. I’ve always prided myself on being a strong public speaker (a skill I work on every day!), and fine-tuning my project to a 15-second “pitch” will present an interesting new challenge.
This month has been inspiring as I move closer to beginning my groups with families of cleft lip and palate patients in the fall. My mentors have been extremely helpful and enthusiastic in the planning stages, which has left me feeling energized. I also learned this month that the Cleft Clinic previously (and briefly) implemented a series of group meetings just like the ones I hope to begin; they meet once a month and were focused on providing both psycho-education and support to parents of children with clefts. While the idea was excellent, the groups were well-executed, and the participants enjoyed the sessions, the groups were very under-attended. I have been warned many times that this might happen as I begin my groups, so I have been trying to think of ways to attract and incentivize participants. The questions on my mind this month include: What can I bring to these families that no one else can? What incentives would convince participants that this group will be a valuable use of their time? How can I make groups sessions as convenient and enjoyable as possible? I hope that, as the first group approaches, I can speak to experienced group facilitators who can help answer my questions through sharing their own approaches to recruitment.
In my fellowship, I am working to form connections between cleft lip and palate families and their children through facilitating support groups and a caregiver conference. May has presented challenges and successes in the planning stage of my project as I have learned to lean on other fellows for support when my plans do not unfold the way I hoped they would. Though I would like to just jump in and begin working with families directly, I have learned from my academic mentor that I need to proceed with caution and be very intentional about every stage of the planning process first. I look forward to overcoming some logistical boulders so that I can see what my support groups will look like in action.