Cards made by children in Birmingham Children’s Hospital to keep in touch with their siblings during COVID restrictions.
Mission partner Ruth Radley works in the multi-faith chaplaincy team at Birmingham Children’s Hospital (BCH), providing spiritual care and support to children and families. We asked her to tell us a bit about the last year from a hospital chaplain’s perspective.
I have been a chaplain at Birmingham Children’s Hospital for about four and a half years now, but this last year has definitely been the strangest.
Just as for everyone, COVID-19 has hit us hard. Our once open visiting policy, so important for children in such difficult circumstances, has been reduced to two nominated visitors only, and no children. The two visitors cannot visit at the same time, which has added difficulties for families who have sick children with us. It also means that we have a few patients who have not seen their siblings for over a year.
These changes have enhanced our role in caring for whole families: being with parents struggling alone and more recently sending home packs for the siblings. The packs let them know that, although we may not see them, we are aware they are there and how hard it is having their sick sibling away.
Siblings are a group that we in chaplaincy are very much aware of, with their often silent struggles when there is a sick sibling over a period of time. I’ve been helping patients make cards with their hand or foot prints to send home to siblings.
We have produced a number of virtual services over the last year: at Christmas and Easter, and we are in the process of recording a second virtual memorial service, which takes place each May. Not having services in person has been so hard for many people, but for some our memorial events give such a precious opportunity to remember and speak about their child who has died – the total loss of this would have been particularly hard for them.
Realising this, and very aware that at this event the team speak to and support many parents and families, we have chaplains available by phone at the end of the virtual service to offer support to all who need it.
Last September we were able to hold our annual memorial walk at the National Arboretum, though rather differently to previous years. Usually we would have a large gathering, but this time people were encouraged to come and walk in their own time, and to collect crafts we had made in advance to place on a memorial tree or to take home. Chaplains were on hand to provide support in a socially-distanced way and many families thanked us for finding a safe way to continue. Indeed, being forced to do this in a different way has actually helped us discover some things that we will take forward into future events.
In addition to the virtual services, we made a couple of animations around Christmas – one telling something of the Christmas story, the other, “The Virus that (tried to) steal Christmas”, featured hospital staff from BCH showing how Christmas wasn’t cancelled here, even though it was different, and that “love, just like a virus, can be anywhere”.
As well as our support for families and sick children, we have continued to support our amazing staff. COVID-19 has been hard on all of us for varying reasons, but I have been particularly aware that for staff, many of their coping mechanisms have been taken away. In this large, busy children’s hospital, our staff are still dealing with some very traumatic events and the death of children. We have sometimes had to remind them that while these things are hard in general times, in this time, they can be unimaginable.
We have of course had patients with COVID-19, but it has been very different to the adult hospitals. Very sadly we had four staff members who died with COVID-19 – and once again the chaplaincy team were called upon to offer support to affected staff. We held three different acts of reflection for the recent day of reflection held around the country, which was a privilege.
We also had a large number of staff who volunteered to help in the adult hospitals, with many being well out of their comfort zone. Nursing adults is very different to children, let alone all the other different things they were encountering. The hospital took their welfare very seriously and we chaplains were part of the team calling these staff to ensure they were as okay as they can be and holding debriefs. Chaplaincy were also asked to help the team at the large NHS trust in Birmingham and some of us were able to respond to this.
Of course, there is so much more I could share. We are very fortunate that chaplaincy is viewed as such an important part of our hospital life here and that we are able to support so many people in so many different ways. Thank you all for your ongoing prayers and support for us.
One of the modules in CMS’s Pioneer Mission Leadership Training explores the ministry of chaplaincy in mission – find out more at pioneer.churchmissionsociety.org