Staff from the Trust have collaborated with Barts Health to launch a Health Hero Training Academy at the Royal London Hospital incorporating therapeutic play, drama, games and psychological therapy to celebrate the strength and abilities of its young patients.
“Due to their illnesses children frequently overcome pain and challenges such as missing school and friends, so we chose to celebrate the strength they show in never giving up,” explained Tara Shea, Play Team Lead at The Royal London Hospital.
Children are given the opportunity to discuss the challenges they face in living with chronic physical health conditions, as well as the strategies they use to manage, in order to promote their psychological wellbeing and build relationships with other children.
After spending the morning developing preferred hero identities based on their strengths and abilities, the children and young people work with Chickenshed Theatre to build on these further through song, drama and play. They perform as a group to their parents and healthcare providers, graduating as official Health Heroes in a ceremony where they are awarded capes or key chains, and certificates.
The workshops also involve supporting parents and carers through a therapeutic group session, and as well as the children and young people naming their own ‘super powers’ - such as courage, creativity and kindness – they also tell their parents and carers why they are their heroes, for example providing them with comfort, love and reassurance.
Tara continued: “Our young patients and their parents achieve small acts of greatness every day; each one is a hero.
“At the Health Hero Training Academy we celebrate what makes our patients different to other children, and identify their strengths as their super powers. It’s a really fun and new approach, with a serious message aiming to boost their confidence in the real world.”
Robbie, who is eleven years old and from Oxford, was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma five years ago. He attended a Health Heroes Training Academy in April, commenting: "Today was good for my confidence. The best bit was making friends with other children who have health conditions and talking to each other about it."
Erin, Robbie’s mother, added: “This has been the first time in five years since Robbie was diagnosed that we have been around other children and parents. Robbie has had fun, and it has been good for me to speak to other parents and share ways to cope.”
The Royal London Hospital children’s play and paediatric liaison teams are working with Chickenshed Theatre, an inclusive theatre company, to hold regular day workshops. There are two versions of the group, a Superhero Training Academy for children aged 6-11 years, and a Modern Day Hero Training Academy for young people aged 12-17 years.