Augusta Asiedu-Lartey is a Child Life Specialist at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) in Accra, Ghana. She talks to us about her role – the highs and the lows – and the impact of Covid-19 on her work.
How did you become a Child Life Specialist?
I studied psychology for my undergraduate degree. Later, when I was doing my national service, I used to visit the Department of Child Health, where I carried out assessment on children’s behaviour in the hospital setting.
We look at many different factors that can impact on a family’s quality of life and their ability to manage when a child is diagnosed with cancer: financial, emotional, the child’s education, whether there are other kids that need caring for and transportation (some families live many hours bus ride from the hospital).
What does a typical day look like for you?
In non-Covid times I split my time between the mothers’ hostel, the day-care centre and the ward.
I engage the children in play therapy with games and storytelling, which not only distracts them, but can also help them process what is happening.
Colouring is very therapeutic and many of the children also like to play doctors and nurses and diagnose the dolls!
I also provide counselling for the families and help educate them so they can make sense of what is happening.
How has Covid-19 impacted on your work?
I now work with children on a 1:1 basis, rather than doing group sessions.
It is a very worrying time, as these are children with weakened immune systems who are very susceptible to infection. Even though I take every precaution possible, there is always the worry that I could bring Covid into the hospital or home without realising.
What is the hardest thing about your job?
Seeing children coming into the hospital with very late-stage cancer, in a great deal of pain and all we can do for them is to offer palliative care. Hearing the distress in their parent’s voice is also hard to deal with.
There is very little awareness about childhood cancers, meaning they may go undiagnosed or be misdiagnosed with malaria. Often the parents have taken their child to three or four different hospitals before they end up in Korle-Bu.
And what is the best thing about your job?
The best thing is when the children open up to me and I am able to help allay their fears. Many children don’t understand why they have got sick or think that the cancer is somehow their fault. Being able to reassure them and to see the smiles on their faces is the most rewarding part of my job.
And of course, seeing a child who has come to us extremely sick and goes on to recover. That is a wonderful moment.
Hearing the news that your child has cancer is devastating. With your help, World Child Cancer is able to provide financial and emotional support to children and their families at diagnosis and beyond, to limit the damage cancer causes.