Cultivating Child Life in Kenya

Photo from Katie McGinnis,  Hope Through Healing Hands

Photo from Katie McGinnis, Hope Through Healing Hands

While the child life profession is gaining more popularity in North America and other, more Westernized countries, there are still many areas of the world that don’t have access to child life services. Just recently, we featured a blog post on paving the way for Child Life in Japan, the largest child life presence in Asia with 50 certified child life specialists. 50 may not seem like much in comparison to the thousands of child life specialists in the US, but it’s still significant compared to the areas that have none. This is why we need dedicated child life specialists who are passionate about building global child life programs and advocates to support them.

With child life being an important field to benefit sick children, their caretakers, and ultimately, pediatric patient experience and healthcare as a whole, we’d love to see it made accessible to kids all over the world. Morgan Livingstone, a CCLS in private practice in Toronto, Canada, is doing just that in Kenya. She is Child Life Officer for World Eye Cancer Hope and has worked hard to cultivate a locally staffed and sustainable child life program at Sally Test Pediatric Centre at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya. From the weeklong intensive pilot training in 2008 to the opening of Shoe4Africa Children’s Hospital in 2015 to offering the official certified child life specialist examination, Morgan has done incredible work to grow a child life program in Kenya. Within several years, there was a solid team of child life specialists and their program continuously gaining more visibility in Kenyan healthcare.

Photo from Morgan Livingstone,  Playopolis Toys

Photo from Morgan Livingstone, Playopolis Toys

The impact of Morgan’s work in Kenya is evident. We in the more developed parts of the world often take for granted the sheer amount of resources available to us. This is no different within healthcare--there’s an ongoing list of resources for families following their child’s medical diagnosis. But in developing countries, there’s often no list. It’s rare that a family will have any access to support services for their sick child, leading to hopelessness, intense suffering, and preventable death. WE C Hope says abandonment of therapy is the primary cause of treatment failure among curable children. Introducing child life is one of the steps to totally transforming the landscape of pediatric healthcare and medical outcomes in developing countries.

Being the only child life program in a developing country does pose its challenges. The reality is that financial resources and continuing educational opportunities are limited. There are not enough pain management medications in Kenya so there’s always a need for distraction materials to help with painful procedures. Webinars, professional organizations, and conferences are often out of question. Katie McGinnis, CCLS, recalls during her 5-week visit to the child life department that the team was “very hungry for new ideas, knowledge, and resources.” To help with this, Morgan returns to Kenya each year to provide additional training and resources for the child life specialists there. As she’s about to embark on her annual trip to Kenya in a matter of days, she’s been fundraising and collecting donations to take with her. We’re excited that she’ll be taking a full collection of SpellBound tools for each of the seven child life specialists at Shoe4Africa Children’s Hospital. Augmented reality (AR) is still relatively new to us here, so we can’t wait to hear about the introduction of AR to the kids in Kenya who’ve never seen such technology before.

Morgan’s inspirational example shows that big, “crazy” dreams can truly be made into reality with hard work and grit. Her impact in Kenya gives hope and motivation that it's possible to make a significant difference and to inspire change in the world where it’s needed most.

To follow Morgan’s adventures as she heads to Kenya, follow her on Twitter.

From Morgan: "I encourage skilled child life specialists from Western programs interested in child life in Kenya to share or donate child life resources and materials, both new and used. Even simple presentations and posters for specific patient populations that can be adapted to the Kenyan child life program are valuable. Help us raise awareness of the Sally Test Pediatric Centre and the Kenyan child life program. Donations help us cover the costs for running annual and ongoing child life programs – consider making a donation – every bit helps!"